The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the world as we know it. Amongst some of the most positive changes, we saw Remote Patient Monitoring become mainstream. This Internet of Medical Things (IoMT or IoT) and AI-driven practice allowed for patient monitoring and treatment from the safety of their homes while also relieving strain on overburdened hospitals. But that doesn’t mean that now that the pandemic is mostly behind us, the importance of Remote Patient Monitoring or the Internet of Medical Things is going to wane.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into how RPM is changing the way patients and practitioners approach healthcare and why IoMT behavioral monitoring is the principal force driving that change.
What is Remote Patient Monitoring?
Remote Patient Monitoring is a medical practice that uses digital technology for gathering, transmission, assessment, and exchange of patient health data via electronic devices. It intends to give caregivers immediate access to crucial indicators so they can offer better, quicker treatment and more precise diagnosis.
We’ve already talked about a similar practice called telehealth, and RPM is often compared to it. However, the major difference between the two is that RPM is more about data collection and diagnostics, whereas telehealth focuses more on the actual delivery of virtual healthcare. These devices, both wearable and implanted, can collect numerous types of health data, from heart rate, sleep habits, and toilet usage to blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood oxygen levels. On top of that, they also have the ability to monitor patients outside of conventional clinical settings.
The Role Of IoT in RPM
We see the Internet of Things (IoT) being applied in more and more industries, and RPM is no exception. If RPM is only a method, IoT, or IoMT behavioral monitoring in particular, is the technology enabling that method to be put into practice. IoT provides a network that connects remote devices like smartwatches, wearable patches, handheld gadgets, or biostickers to enable real-time information sharing between patients and doctors.
For instance, using in-home ECG machines to monitor the heart health of cardiac patients is one of the most popular applications for these devices in RPM. Or you can do standard tests or checks at home (check your blood pressure, for example) and communicate the findings to your doctor in real-time using a smartphone or several types of smart body sensors. Overall, the use cases of IoMT devices extend far beyond the above two examples, and the number of devices being developed and used is also increasing with each year.
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How Does RPM Improve Patient Outcomes?
IoT-powered RPM can positively affect patient outcomes both directly and indirectly.
Here are some of the RPM’s direct positive influences:
- sending notifications, updates, and suggestions that encourage patients to follow their care plans, leading to better results;
- making the gathering, systemizing and assessing of patient health information much more effortless
- reducing the danger of contracting or spreading infections as patients don’t need to physically attend a hospital and may often receive a diagnosis remotely;
- helping to plan the appropriate actions for treatments using real-time knowledge about the patient's health status.
And some indirect positive influences:
- building strong connections between patients and healthcare providers;
- allowing for less physical involvement required for healthcare delivery, which helps increase healthcare staff productivity;
- sending appointment reminders for on-site or remote care, decreasing patient no-show rates;
- enabling hospitals to take fewer visits and may offer better treatment without requiring patients to physically see them;
- facilitating hospital resource usage optimization.
How Do RPM Systems Work?
Ultimately, this technology is going to have the same core logic and principles no matter the device type or the diagnosis. To explain how RPM devices work in a system, we can study an example of a patient connected to an in-home ECG machine. A patient is given an ECG sensor to monitor their heart condition, and a gateway is put in the patient's mobile phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) as a stand-alone unit at home that gathers and transmits the gathered data to a distant server.
The data is now evaluated and annotated to create a diagnostic report, which is then sent to a point-of-care device that serves the diagnostic report to a physician. Such a wearable gadget connected to a cloud-based healthcare monitoring system not only eliminates the need for intrusive testing of the patient, but also gives the provider access to real-time information about the patient's status.
Advantages of RPM
The most apparent benefits that the healthcare providers can reap from the usage of RPM are the following:
Greater precision overall
Accuracy of RPM devices can boost productivity and teamwork between patients, healthcare professionals and anyone else involved in the patient treatment process, including family members or outside consultants. Emergencies may be handled more quickly and efficiently by adding extra features like GPS positioning - for those suffering from such chronic diseases as dementia or Alzheimer's, for example, precision will be crucial should the patient wander off. Doctors can provide the proper care more promptly and improve overall health outcomes when they are not forced to make educated guesses about a patient's location or the problem they are experiencing.
More promptness in critical situations
RPM devices allow medical practitioners to treat patients much more swiftly. Thanks to RPM's continuous monitoring of patient's vital signs, doctors may handle critical, time-sensitive medical situations much more efficiently simply by intervening earlier. Faster reaction times can speed up the start of critical therapies, prevent delayed diagnoses that may significantly affect recovery durations, and help save lives.
More convenience in healthcare processes
RPM makes it simpler for healthcare professionals to provide patients with the care they require. The automatic scheduling of virtual meetings has replaced in-person visits without hurting face-to-face contact between doctors and patients thanks to the near-instant communication capabilities incorporated into RPM technologies. Patients are less inclined to postpone an urgent appointment when one may be necessary, and more individuals have constant access to healthcare from anywhere, even remote locations.
Less administrative workload and paperwork
An RPM system may also be used to provide insurers and governmental organizations with electronic health records so that they can process claims more rapidly. To avoid having to fill out time-consuming claim forms, automation can make it easier to exchange patient data with the relevant authorities. The relevant insurance or government agency receives the automatically generated reports from the RPM system and the doctor's prescriptions through secure transmission.
Higher levels of data security
In the healthcare industry, security and patient data privacy are of utmost importance. Because medical information is so delicate, it is crucial to maintain data security as it is being gathered, handled, transported, and read. And since the remote patient monitoring systems usually operate through IoT networks, the data is extremely secure. Not to mention, RPM makes it simple for the data to adhere to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 1996) standards as well as EMR (electronic medical record) rules.
RPM still has a long way to go - it is still rather uncommon in many regions of the world, especially developing countries. And even in places where it is more common, there’s a lot of room for improvement. For example, the more IoT devices are introduced into the RPM territory, the more difficult it will be to guarantee safety and enforce universal technical standards across all of these devices.
Not to mention, the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the more time the healthcare professionals may take to learn how to make the best out of it. However, there is no doubt that the ability to deliver care outside of hospitals and clinics, allowing doctors to better take care of their patients, has already saved many lives in recent years and it will continue to do so.