Looking Towards the RPM Future
Over the past few years, telehealth adoption and use remained relatively slow, even with technological advancements in online connectivity and transmission capabilities. Fast forward to the beginning of 2020, and you’ll see a different story.
As the rapid spread of Covid-19 quickly taxed traditional methods of healthcare delivery, state and federal regulators were prompted to authorize and adopt telehealth services.
For example, HHS sweepingly approved the use of telehealth services as part of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. State regulators added their own emergency directives, which enabled more providers to utilize telehealth and expanded Medicaid coverage, among others.
Additionally, reimbursement for telehealth is now allowed: CMS issued multiple waivers, providing flexibility and granting payment parity between telehealth and in-person clinical care for Medicare.
As a result, telehealth adoption skyrocketed.
Graphic from from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, here.
All Eyes on RPM
One modality has presented itself as an important solution to help alleviate demand created by Covid-19: remote patient monitoring (RPM). Traditionally, this has meant device-based readings of vital signs/key indicators. Today, healthcare providers can remotely manage patients’ existing conditions, check for Covid-19 symptoms, and adjust treatment plans if necessary. In turn, RPM reduces the need for hospital and office visits, and minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus.
It’s important to note that the concept and use of RPM is not new. Neither is the core problem that RPM seeks to solve, which is that our healthcare system is designed around acute interventions, resulting in little to no chronic condition support and poor adherence to treatment protocols.
A Growing Need for RPM
The pandemic has shed light on the fact that patients with chronic conditions have not been set up for success in managing their health on their own. Many Americans have been led to postpone routine care, such as annual screenings and physical exams, in an effort to keep themselves out of harm’s way. Physicians worry that as a result, many will arrive with advanced stages of disease, causing a surge of non-Covid related illnesses.
This will undoubtedly stress an already strained system: the demand for physician services is expected to significantly outpace the supply of physicians in the United States from now until 2030, causing many states to face severe physician workforce shortages. Now, more than ever, we must extend scarce healthcare resources by conserving in-person resources for patients in critical need of in-person care.
A “New Normal” After Covid-19
Covid-19 has created a “new normal” in which RPM is becoming commonplace. Today, we can activate and empower patients with chronic conditions in their homes by providing ongoing support, timely information, and personalized resources that extend care beyond acute, ambulatory settings.
Benefits for patients: Widespread adoption and use of RPM can mitigate patients’ lifestyle risk and promote timely and adequate treatment responses to delay or avoid costly disease progression. Nationally, the potential cost savings for chronic condition management through remote patient monitoring is estimated at USD200 billion with a commercial opportunity of USD15 billion.
Health system benefits: RPM helps physicians monitor and treat chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. It also allows healthcare organizations such as pharmaceutical companies and payors to track medical and health-related information from patients.
The current healthcare landscape underlines now, more than ever, the importance of engaging patients in their homes to ensure that high-risk and rising risk patients have timely, accurate information to better manage their conditions. The benefit is twofold: patients can better manage their health while providing valuable data to drive physicians and healthcare organizations to improve clinical outcomes.