Running a medical practice can be like managing a baseball team. It requires skill, talent, equipment, facilities, and gut instincts. But today, managers also are required to include technology expertise in their competencies. It’s not enough for a physician to be a good doctor or even a good businessperson. The tools of the trade have evolved. The upside is some of the tools available can have a significant impact on the ultimate goal – better patient outcomes – without excessive cost to the practitioner.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many issues such as patient access to care to the fore, and accelerated existing technology like telemedicine and innovative options like remote patient monitoring (RPM).
RPM isn’t new, but the devices and the technology continue to evolve and improve, making it asubject of interest in practice management discussions. If RPM is expected to save the U.S. health care system $200 billion over the next 25 years, as research from Deloitte indicates, how will that affect specific practices?
RPM offers a more effective method of care with today’s technologies but there are initial costs in equipment, training, process adaptation, etc., even if the capital outlay often is lower than for conventional medical equipment. Implementing a new technology isn’t immediate so there’s the need to carry existing systems while phasing in the new one.
For medicine, the upside is multifold. When the appropriate RPM technology is used successfully, patients don’t have to drive back and forth to the clinic, and appointments can be managed on a tighter schedule. RPM can also improve speed and access to data. For example, vital signs and other physiological information can automatically be captured from patients at home and routed to the clinic with little intervention by either the patient or the care provider, thereby increasing both speed and accuracy of data.
With acute care for a specific incident or condition, RPM can facilitate a patient’s earlier discharge from the hospital or inpatient facility if the condition can be effectively monitored from home. RPM technology can provide an automated and continuous means to check on the patient and alert the caregiver of a potential problem.
There’s no denying that health care is a business. Practices and care facilities must efficiently manage patients in order to be profitable, so optimizing the physician’s time is critical. Even with RPM, it can be difficult to justify the return on investment for new technology to replace an existing process. However, using RPM to add a new revenue source may be financially attractive for providers. Here’s an example. Cardiologists have used Holter monitors for decades, but they still require multiple in-person patient visits as well as a technician for downloading and reviewing the data. While a Holter could be the best choice for some patients, adding an option for mobile telemetry-based cardiac monitoring adds a service option that’s more appealing to some demographics.
McKinsey reported that “$250 billion of U.S. health care spend could potentially be shifted to virtual or virtually enabled care,” especially among patients who’ve grown up with technology. But for virtual care to go beyond video calls and telemedicine clinicians must identify the compelling application for use of the new technology.
Think about when computers first became mainstream. Being told you can do myriad novel tasks with a computer is great – conceptually. But realistically it doesn’t matter unless one of those functions fulfills a compelling need. Learning you could use a computer to create a spreadsheet that reduces the time to do your books from 15 hours to three hours justified the cost of the equipment, the software, and the training.
RPM is similar. For example, to monitor blood pressure, patients are often asked to take manual BP readings throughout the day over multiple days. The problem with conventional BP cuffs is that the entire burden falls on the patient to remember to read and record the information, which often results in poor and/or sporadic data. By using a medical wearable that can automatically and continuously capture BP readings, the data will be more accurate and reliable – resulting in better diagnosis and treatment.
RPM’s continuous monitoring provides an enormous amount of raw data. The right application must show the clinician streamlined data that’s applicable to the situation. Consider self-driving cars. The onboard sensors generate copious amounts of data, but software analyzes and filters only what the driver needs to see. Similarly, continuous RPM monitoring results in mounds of data but the right software and algorithm make the data useful to the clinician without being overwhelming.
Like many other technologies, RPM can appear daunting at first, but it needn’t be. Clinicians have the opportunity to help drive a shift in health care by migrating technology into the mainstream. Face-to-face medicine isn’t the only option; it’s just the standard care model. Years ago, house calls were the norm; why can’t RPM help usher in a new phase through a generation who’s grown up with cell phones and the internet as necessities? Health care can lead the way with physicians as both practitioners and primary decision makers.
Jiang Li is founder and CEO of Vivalink, a provider of connected health care technology for patient monitoring and telemedicine.