Examples of Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

Now that you understand some of the reasons organizations choose to offer remote physiologic management services, let’s take a look at devices most commonly used to deliver RPM services. Thanks in part to increased patient interest and an overhaul of RPM CPT codes that helped spur interest in RPM, device options are more extensive than in the past, including devices that can help meet both short- and long-term needs of patients. Knowing more about which devices are available, including those from our sister company, Pylo, can help you understand which choices not only fit your organization needs but also help maximize revenue potential.

Though there are many RPM device options on the market to learn about, we’ll discuss four of the most common ones.

  1. Blood pressure monitor — The research is clear on the benefits of blood pressure monitors. That’s why organizations are increasingly employing blood pressure monitors, typically cuffs worn on patients’ wrists, to improve hypertension management. As the American Heart Association notes, research has shown that remote cardiac monitoring can greatly reduce patient blood pressure compared to typical care and self-monitoring alone. With remote blood pressure monitors, practitioners can perform ongoing virtual monitoring and treatment of hypertension/high blood pressure. In addition, remote monitoring helps avoid misleading blood pressure readings due to “white-coat hypertension.” These false results occur when blood pressure readings are higher during in-person visits than they are when patients are in other settings (e.g., home, office) due to the stress of meeting with a practitioner.
  2. Weight monitor — It probably comes as no surprise that there’s an obesity problem in the
    United States. But did you know that the CDC notes that more than 42% of the American population was considered obese in 2017–2018? Complicating this issue further is that obesity-related conditions can include such serious health matters as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of preventable cancer. Organizations can use remote weight monitoring, typically performed via a scale, for multiple purposes. For congestive heart failure patients, a sudden weight gain of even just a few pounds may be an indicator that the condition is worsening, prompting practitioners to take action, such as adjusting existing medications, prescribing a diuretic, or arranging an in-person or telehealth visit. For practitioners working to help patients lose weight, ongoing monitoring can help assess trends and measure success. RPM is also valuable for supporting patients undergoing bariatric surgery. On the other hand, if unexpected, rapid weight loss occurs, remote weight monitoring helps ensure it is identified quickly. Practitioners can then work to reduce the risks associated with sudden weight loss, which include weakened bones,
    compromised immune system, dehydration, and fatigue.
  3. Blood glucose monitor — For diabetics, monitoring blood glucose levels is absolutely critical to their safety. In fact, diabetes patients are some of the most aware concerning digital health, and monitoring blood glucose levels is one of the most effective remote patient monitoring applications. Since patients often do not feel particular symptoms associated with diabetes until they experience hyperglycemia (glucose level too high) or hypoglycemia (glucose level too low), the use of a remote monitor can be the difference between life or death. Untreated hyperglycemia can lead to the life-threatening condition of ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) and other complications affecting the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart. Untreated hypoglycemia can initially lead to blurred vision, confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness, and eventually more significant complications, such as seizures, coma, and sometimes death. Practitioners can use the data captured by a remote blood glucose monitoring device to detect potential alarming changes in glucose levels and take immediate actions. Importantly, the data can provide insights that practitioners will use to guide recommendations concerning medications, diet, and exercise. For example, one study showed that
    70% of high-risk diabetic patients were able to lower their A1C levels by using remote patient monitoring medical devices.
  4. Spirometer — Of all the remote patient monitoring devices we’ve discussed, the spirometer may be the least common of the examples, but practitioners should expect to be hearing a lot more about remote spirometry in the near future. Spirometry, also known as pulmonary function testing, measures lung function. Specifically, a spirometer measures the volume (i.e., amount) and/or flow (i.e., speed) of air that an individual can inhale or exhale. Spirometry testing plays an essential role in diagnosing lung diseases as well as assessing and monitoring conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Though a spirometer is typically used by a patient during an in-person visit, remote spirometry was on the uptick even before the COVID-19 health crisis. Remote spirometry allows practitioners to monitor a patient’s lung condition virtually and assess whether treatments, including medications, are proving successful in helping patients better manage breathing issues. The pandemic is contributing to a greater surge in remote lung function monitoring for those with respiratory risks. High-risk patients with chronic respiratory conditions should take extra precautions, including limiting their interactions with other people as much as possible. Another unique advantage of using this remote physiologic device has been driven by COVID-19 safety concerns. Since using a spirometer requires a patient to blow into the device (typically 3 to 10 times), any patient who uses one while infected with COVID-19 increases the risk of exposure to anyone in proximity, which may include physicians, staff, and other patients in an organization.

Technology Driving Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

The widespread adoption of digital health is changing how healthcare is delivered here in the United States. As such, healthcare technology companies are developing amazing new devices that can track patient vital statistics from anywhere and everywhere — powered by different forms of technology. With new device choices emerging regularly, finding the best technology for patients can be overwhelming.

When researching your options, two of the questions you will want to ask are:

  1. How do these devices work?
  2. How does the information get safely transmitted to you as their practitioner?

Information from RPM devices can be transmitted to practitioners in one of two ways: Over a cellular network or via Bluetooth technology. But how do you determine which delivery method is the right one to choose?

Cellular Remote Patient Monitoring Vs. Bluetooth Remote Patient Monitoring

When choosing the right remote patient monitoring technology, consider that there are benefits and limitations to cellular and Bluetooth technologies, so it comes down to which technology solution is the best fit for your organization, patients, and practitioners.

First, cellular remote patient monitoring devices collect and transmit patient health data over the same networks used by our cellphones. Companies that offer cellular-connected devices typically partner with major cell phone companies to access their widespread networks.

On the other hand, Bluetooth remote patient monitoring devices transmit patient data over short-range wireless connections to devices that can connect to the internet. While these technologies are typically deemed secure and reliable, there are pros and cons of each to consider.

You can use this checklist of pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Advantages of Cellular Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

  • Cellular connected remote patient monitoring devices can transmit patient health data from anywhere the cellular service provider can reach.
  • The cellular option offers the ability to record and transmit patient data in real-time, allowing the patient’s healthcare team to receive almost immediate alerts.
  • Some cellular-connected RPM devices can provide two-way communications, meaning the healthcare team can reach out to the patient through the RPM device itself.
  • Cellular RPM devices are easier for patients who might not be comfortable with hi-tech gadgets because they are essentially ready to use out of the box — just insert batteries and power on.

Limitations of Cellular Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

  • Cellular RPM devices are limited to the cellular company’s service area, a potential challenge for Americans living in rural areas.
  • There are typically higher costs associated with a cellular network connection and device components.
  • There is a potential for loss of communication and the ability to transmit data if the cellular network has an outage.

Advantages of Bluetooth Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

  • Bluetooth remote patient monitoring devices use short-range wireless connections to transmit data to an internet connected device. Patients can transmit health data via the internet to their healthcare team without any concern of cellular network availability if they have internet access and a Bluetooth-capable device.
  • Bluetooth allows for a wider selection of devices that can be purchased more readily online and in stores.
  • Patients may be able to use the devices they already own and brands they know.
  • Bluetooth devices are cost-effective as they require no cellular data connection.
  • Consumers are becoming more comfortable with Bluetooth devices, with the number of Bluetooth device shipments continuing to increase year over year.

Limitations of Bluetooth Remote Patient Monitoring Devices

  • Privacy may be a concern. Bluetooth connections particularly those considered “Bluetooth low energy” — can sometimes be “discovered,” meaning that the transmission of health data over the short-range wireless connection could increase security risks.
  • There is no provision for two-way communications.
  • Bluetooth can be difficult to set up and may require connections to be established more than once if a device needs to update or be reformatted. Pairing issues between devices and phones may frustrate patients and lead to more requests for technical support.
  • Timeliness is paramount when it comes to remote physiologic monitoring. Patients need their own access to the internet to transmit their health data to their healthcare team. This connection must be reliable or there is a risk that the data will not be transmitted or done so in a timely manner.

While both types of remote patient monitoring devices — cellular and Bluetooth — offer clear advantages, we believe cellular-connected devices have an edge concerning Medicare beneficiaries. Cellular devices offer an easier to-use, all-encompassing service if there are no connectivity barriers. The key is in the simplicity of the set up. This is crucial for two reasons. First, it reduces the need for organizations to provide ongoing technical support. Second, it is likely to decrease the chance that patients will be unsatisfied with their RPM device, which should promote continued use and cooperation.

Many organizations have found success in offering a mix of connectivity options. Bluetooth devices deliver noteworthy advantages and may be worth offering to tech-savvy patients while defaulting to cellular devices. This strategy helps you to mitigate risks on a patient-by-patient basis, but it also requires that you have a flexible remote patient monitoring platform.

However, if your organizations wants to support only one type of device, consider safety. Cellular devices can report patient vital statistics faster without needing to rely on whether patients have reliable internet access and are comfortable troubleshooting any operational issues.

No matter which technology you choose to support your devices, it’s worth examining the most common use applications for the devices as well.

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