We all know about Telehealth’s classic uses: store-and-forward, where images are taken and later sent to a provider for analysis (dermatology and wound care come to mind); and interactive encounters, where a caregiver talks directly with a patient on a real-time videoconference connection. But is there more? Or should I say, “But wait, there’s more!” You’ve probably heard all the hoopla about apps for smart devices that record health-related information like number of steps taken, weight, active minutes and even sleep efficiency. These data are stored in a mobile device and forwarded to a website for storage. The payoff there is that the person who wears the device can keep track of their activity and see how they’re doing against their goals.
That’s cool (I wear one to track my steps), but there’s another use of smart devices that work more directly with health care providers. It’s called remote patient monitoring (RPM) and it’s extremely helpful for certain patients. RPM is used in situations where the patient has a chronic illness like congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or diabetes, to name a few. Patients use RPM to check in each day and log their vital signs, weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and others. The readings are forwarded to a monitoring center where a medical professional checks the results and determines if the person needs to see a physician, return to the hospital or go to the emergency room. Or, more importantly, if they’re staying healthy. Pilot projects using RPM have shown that ER visits and 30-day readmissions are going down and the patients’ overall sense of well-being all move goes up because they are being ‘seen’ daily. In addition, negative trends are spotted early and dealt with before they become a major health issue. RPM is definitely the wave of the future and will be the primary theme of this year’s American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum. I’m pursuing research and information on the subject now and NRTRC is partnering with another TRC and two community health centers on a RPM startup project. The future is here!
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