What not to believe about remote patient monitoring

As defined in Wikipedia, remote patient monitoring (RPM) is “a technology to enable monitoring of patients outside of conventional clinical settings (e.g., in the home), which may increase access to care and decrease healthcare delivery costs.” I was a pioneer adopter of RPM as a beta site for Medtronic’s Carelink wireless system, which monitors implantable cardiac rhythm devices (defibrillators and pacemakers). RPM has gained significant attention because of recently mandated penalties for hospital readmissions for certain diagnoses (myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, stroke and chronic obstructive lung disease).

RPM is seen as a way of remaining in physiologic contact with these patients who might be managed at home via care systems. There are conflicting study results regarding the utility of remote monitoring preventing hospital readmissions. Some studies show no decrease in hospitalizations, and others see a significant benefit.

Consider the following five fallacies about RPM:

1. All remote monitoring is the same. There is no standard definition of RPM. Some studies utilizing only telephone interviews have been called RPM. Other RPM technologies use body sensors that deliver data from the person’s body in an automated fashion into a server and/or a smartphone via an app, and/or an EHR.

2. All remote monitoring is reimbursed. RPM using implantable cardiac rhythm devices has been directly reimbursed for many years in the United States. In fact, when it was first approved for reimbursement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, it was approved at a higher level than in-office follow-up. Many years following approval of reimbursement in the United States, European countries are still variable with regards to reimbursement models.

3. Patients and physicians will welcome and embrace remote monitoring. My first foray into remote patient monitoring introduced me to the psychological aspects of the technology as much as the bells, whistles and clicks entailed in performing it. The first pushback from patients is that the technology is replacing the physician and eliminating the patient-physician relationship. If the technology conveys true benefit to patient care (implantable cardiac device monitoring leads to early discovery of arrhythmias or the detection of an eventually recalled defibrillator system wire), then the benefits are good. 

What patients should know is that with any type of well-designed and thought-out RPM system they will be more connected both literally and figuratively with their provider.  Interestingly according to the 2012 Study of mHealth by Ruder Finn, 33 percent of patients would like their physician to use a mobile platform for RPM to alert them of serious medical problems.

The first reaction from physicians is that they will be deluged with useless generated data, and that the data will remain in cyberspace without them knowing about it. The first reaction is addressed with good design, with actionable (and customizable) alerts and a workflow system employing non-physician providers. The second concern is addressed below.

4. Remote monitoring should be totally automated. The most effective RPM systems have some sort of human interaction involved in closing the monitoring loop. This is advisable for a number of reasons. There needs to be individualization of programmed parameters and alerts. This will allow for actionable alerts that are both meaningful to the provider and beneficial to the patient. Data cannot be managed in a vacuum. There will be false positive and negative readings that must be correlated to the clinical condition of the patient in order to result in optimal management. Caregivers should be involved in the loop as well.

5. Remote monitoring is only for recently discharged patients. It is no secret that RPM has garnered and generated extraordinary attention because of Medicare penalties for hospital readmissions. Regulatory requirements have driven much of the adoption of digital technology in the past decade. This includes EHRs, tools to determine and improve patient satisfaction and patient portals. This is sad insomuch as one would hope that providers would invest in improved patient outcomes independent of mandates, following the tech adoption leads of the retail and finance sectors, focused on customer satisfaction and transaction outcomes. That being said, one would hope that the theoretical improvements brought to patients vis-a-vis decreased re-hospitalizations (though 30 days is hardly a measure of long-term success) could extend to all relevant patients (those not hospitalized with chronic illness as well as those beyond the 30 day discharge period).

I have witnessed firsthand the dawn and benefits of RPM over time. I look forward to the partnerships of RPM, mobile health, health IT and non-tech patient-centric care.

David Lee Scher is a former cardiac electrophysiologist and is an independent consultant and owner/director at DLS Healthcare Consulting, LLC, concentrating in advising digital health companies and their partnering institutions, providers and businesses. A pioneer adopter of remote cardiac monitoring, he lectures worldwide promoting the benefits of digital health technologies. Twitter: @dlschermd. He also blogs at http://davidleescher.com. He was cited as one of the 10 cardiologists to follow on Twitter and one of the top 10 blogs on healthcare technology.