The evolution of technology in healthcare has been fast-tracked over the past few years as the industry has adapted to pandemic era living. Providers have been navigating safety and emergency care through caseload peaks, while still working to manage their patients’ baseline health. Traditionally, providers relied on in-person visits to check in on their patients; that is, until the pandemic accelerated telehealth adoption, expanding care outside of the office and hospital walls. Healthcare wasn't alone in this revolution, as most industries shifted operations online and adapted quickly to the change in environment. Although there have been growing pains, the swift technological advances made in a short period are helping shape a future way of living that was inevitable with time.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) continues to gain traction in the market as telehealth becomes more widely adopted and understood by both patients and providers. Now that telehealth is trusted and recognized as a viable healthcare delivery option, the following year will shape how RPM technology is leveraged and applied to this new model of care to solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare today. In the coming year, RPM will be relied upon to provide solutions relating to equitable access to care, lower costs for both patients and providers, and deliver a streamlined process for digitizing healthcare. With the overarching goal of RPM becoming the new standard of care, the natural progression of the technology and adoption will help solve current challenges in healthcare.
Forecast: RPM Technology and Adoption
As telemedicine grows, RPM will be an essential part of the necessary infrastructure.
Insider Intelligence estimates 70.6 million U.S. patients, or 26.2% of the population, will use RPM tools by 2025. RPM technology consistently gives physicians physiological insights into patient health, thus setting the standard for proactive and real-time patient monitoring and care. Now, informed physicians can intervene when necessary, reducing unnecessary in-person clinical visits, chances of hospitalizations, and readmissions.
To capitalize on the telehealth boom during the pandemic, continued promotion of RPM is necessary by providers and health systems looking to take advantage of the many benefits. Adopting this technology will only happen when targeted at the right patient populations, such as those suffering from chronic illness and disease. RPM will continue to provide relief for overwhelmed systems and providers while ensuring patient safety from the comfort of their homes.
Consumerization of Healthcare
As with telehealth adoption, the consumerization of healthcare advanced during the pandemic. Telehealth and RPM offer a convenience that is almost expected now in the “on-demand” lifestyle we live in where smart-phone enabled food delivery, transportation and entertainment is at our fingertips. Although the healthcare industry is historically behind in regards to tech adoption, it will be harder to avoid in the year ahead as patients build upon the virtual momentum from the past couple years and expect real-time health insights. This expectation has certainly boosted the prevalence of health centric wearables collecting every day data from people, which nicely translates to the transfer of health data from patient to provider. Deloitte recently predicted that 320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices will ship worldwide in 2022. We’re also seeing more tech companies expand to include health divisions, which will continue to push the healthcare industry into digitizing to serve the needs of today’s consumers.
As RPM technology evolves, innovations in device miniaturization is a natural progression. Technology trends follow a similar pattern of efficiency and convenience, leading to smaller, more compact product versions. Most recently, engineers from the University of Missouri have developed a prototype of a finger clip RPM device to measure blood pressure. The device also collects heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen saturation measurements. Within five seconds, an individual's blood pressure can be taken and sent wirelessly to a computer that will then calculate the measurement. The implications of this technology for RPM and remote patient monitoring will be monumental for replacing older blood pressure cuff technology, ultimately increasing ease of use for patients at home.
The consumerization of healthcare not only services patients, but providers as well. Moving to more digitally versed operations will increase efficiencies for physicians and hospital staff dealing with large volumes of patients and storage of health information. Administrative tasks will be streamlined through RPM technology, driving cost savings, staff efficiencies, and culminating with superior care and increased patient satisfaction.
Expanded access to virtual healthcare services
Advances in care that rely on access to technology and broadband internet are two of the most significant barriers to RPM and telehealth success. Although the pandemic demonstrated telemedicine's adoptability, the industry is still figuring out how to utilize the technology to reach more diverse populations. To address this, some state lawmakers are proposing ways to support lower-income communities with expanded access to broadband internet by including this service in public housing. At a federal level, ensuring stronger telecommunications connection and reliability within rural and tribal areas was one objective of President Joe Biden's large-scale Infrastructure Bill passed in 2021. A goal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is to increase access to comprehensive, high-quality health care services, which addresses social determinants of health. Minority groups are more likely to go without regular healthcare services, while groups living in rural areas face barriers to accessing care. Neglecting preventative health services can lead to chronic illness and associated high healthcare costs down the road.
RPM and telehealth can expand access to healthcare for underserved populations, or for those living in healthcare “deserts.” By offering care that takes place outside of the clinic walls and regular office hours supports the portion of your patient population that cannot easily find a ride to the office, take hours off of work for medical care, or afford a babysitter to help with childcare. In this way, RPM and telehealth can become a lifeline for those that would greatly benefit from regular wellness appointments, optimizing management of chronic care conditions, helping to oversee chronic pain, additional postpartum check-ins and more. For those individuals that require frequent testing and visits, these virtual technologies with automated data collection can help reduce the high costs associated with managing complex, chronic illness. As healthcare shifts to value-based care, RPM effectively ensures all patients can receive quality, consistent care.
As its adoption grows in the year ahead, RPM will drive even greater cost savings
According to a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, an estimated $265 billion worth of care services currently being delivered in clinics, facilities, and physicians’ offices could shift to the home by 2025. Providers could see cost savings opportunities from value-based payment arrangements or reimbursement for RPM services provided.
Currently, healthcare spending is multiplying at an unsustainable rate. According to the CDC, six in ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes. These and other chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a top driver of healthcare costs. Along with average lifespans increasing, there needs to be a disruption to how the current health system operates to curb spending long term.
When compared to costly services patients could require later in life, RPM is a worthwhile investment to monitor patients, especially those at risk and suffering from a chronic disease. With RPM, there's no need for unnecessary in-person visits, reducing costs associated with clinical visits for both patients and providers. Monitoring the patient regularly allows the physician to intervene when necessary and possibly prevent expensive surgeries and therapies for the patient in the future.
RPM Will Fill in the Gaps for Pandemic-Era Challenges
The ongoing threat of Covid-19 has necessitated the delay or cancellation of routine care and elected surgeries. In many cases, patients neglected care due to the risk of infection in a medical or hospital setting. The New York Times cited a study that estimated more than nine million people in the U.S. missed cancer screenings between March and May of 2020. A missed screening eliminates the chance of early detection, which can lead to more severe disease and unnecessary pain and suffering experienced by the patient. On the provider side, preventative services can help reduce more costly care in the future due to timely interventions and treatments for diseases caught in early stages. In addition, delays in elective surgeries can cause patients to be in worse condition by the time surgery is rescheduled, leading to an increased risk of encountering complications.
Keeping in mind all the risks associated with neglecting routine or elective care, RPM can help fill the gaps when in-person care isn’t possible. During this pandemic, RPM was used to monitor patients at home as hospitals struggled with full capacities and were able to review patient data virtually and eliminate unnecessary hospital visits. The ability for providers to replace in-person care with RPM technology allowed patients to remain in compliance with adequate physician oversight and avoid the risk of exposure in a clinical setting.
The onslaught of Covid-19 cases contributed to the burnout of physicians and clinical staff who were already overworked prior to the pandemic. With the increased prevalence of staff becoming ill themselves, many health systems were forced to find outsourced labor or depend on existing staff to cover shifts and positions. In cases where patients can be safely monitored from home, RPM can help reduce the volume of patients in hospitals, lessening the load and attention needed from clinical staff. Patients in relatively good health and stable conditions can be sent home to be monitored, or screened prior to being admitted to see if a hospital visit is even necessary. RPM can help providers fill gaps when short staffed and overall increase administrative efficiencies to provide patients quicker care on a consistent basis.
RPM in the Year Ahead
RPM will continue to come up in conversation as telehealth adoption and access reaches more people in need of these services. As the consumerization of healthcare evolves and RPM devices become more commonplace, hospital systems will be encouraged to develop workflows that incorporate RPM as a viable care pathway for patients. The widespread commitment to utilizing RPM and telehealth services will result in cost-savings by health systems, clinical staff efficiencies and satisfaction, and most importantly delivering better quality of care to patients.