Health at Home

The Benefits of Remote Patient Monitoring

Living longer has its ups and downs. With an average life expectancy of approximately eighty-two years in Canada and seventy-nine years in the United States, many of us are on this planet longer than ever before…
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One on hand, a lengthier life allows us to share more time with loved ones, learn new things, travel, and open ourselves up to different experiences. On the other side, there are the aches, pains, ailments, and diseases associated with old age, including congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, adult-onset diabetes, arthritis, cataracts, and dementia.

Many aging baby boomers – women and men born between 1946 and 1964 – are already retired or on the brink of calling it quits, and health care systems worldwide are strapped for cash. Hospitals and extended care facilities are filling rapidly as the number of people requiring medical assistance and treatment continues to rise. Fortunately, newer and better technologies are emerging, like remote patient monitoring (RPM) which keeps patients in the health care system, yet allows them to reside in the comfort of their own homes.

In simple terms, RPM is information-gathering technology used to monitor patients outside of traditional healthcare settings, such as hospitals and sometimes referred to as remote patient management or telehealth. The essential components of remote patient monitoring system are wireless sensors in the device itself, localized data storage at the patient’s home, a centralized repository, and diagnostic software. These electronic devices gather relevant health data whether the patient is in their home, workplace, or elsewhere.

RPM devices are not ugly, cumbersome contraptions, but closely resemble sleek, wearable technology such as the latest generations of the smartwatches or the wildly popular activity trackers monitoring calories consumed and burned, number of steps, and daily and weekly exercise goals. RPM products are well-designed and manufactured.

And for patients and healthcare providers, the benefits of RPM use are proving to be enormous. Much like larger diagnostic equipment found in hospitals, RPM saves patients the time, trouble, and physical challenge – especially for those who have mobility issues – of going to a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office to check their blood pressure, heart rate, and other health factors.

Among its many applications, the technology is valuable to monitor diabetes, as it determines blood glucose results immediately. This allows patients to be more involved in decisions regarding their healthcare and improves the quality of care that healthcare providers can give without obstructing workflow, according to information presented at the annual meeting of American Association of Diabetes Educators in August of 2018.

In patients with cardiovascular (CV) conditions, RPM has shown itself to be extremely advantageous, since providers can use telemonitoring technology to collect data and use the information to create plans for patient care.

Researchers at Illinois-based Northwestern University conducted a project remotely linking patients with Alzheimer’s or primary progressive aphasia – the deterioration of brain tissue responsible for speech – with speech-language pathologists using telehealth – remotely providing healthcare through technology. The study was entitled Communication Bridge: A pilot feasibility study of Internet-based speech-language therapy for individuals with progressive aphasia, and the results were encouraging. The study found significant improvement in patients when it came to remembering previously ‘lost’ words.

The authors of the study, “sought to determine the feasibility of utilizing telepractice, via Internet video conferencing, to connect individuals with progressive aphasia to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for treatment.” People suffering from aphasia tend to be under-referred to speech-language therapy (SLT) services that could help.

Participants in the study were given a personalized to-do list of activities and engaged in script training, practicing personally relevant words, number strategies, auditory comprehension strategies, and other areas.

They could see their upcoming therapy dates on a calendar and view their in-home exercise assignments, watch up to twenty videos containing communication strategies, and connect to online therapy sessions. In terms of feasibility and functional outcomes, many reported the therapy exceeded expectations.

In the United States, approximately 5.3 million people over sixty-five have Alzheimer’s, and 200,000 under sixty-five have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which worsens over time. RPM helps them to maintain their dignity and gives researchers data that may help in finding a cure for this disease.

Remote patient monitoring is being used for children with autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to monitor heart rates and blood pressure, sugar levels, and more. ASD is characterized by challenges ranging from social skills to issues with speech such as non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviour and affects approximately one in fifty-nine children. RPM is serving as a way for caregivers – usually parents – to communicate with kids better while reducing stress on themselves.

A recent study, Telehealth and Autism: Treating Challenging Behaviour at Lower Cost, revealed that there other benefits to the health care system and parents alike. The study found that annual expenses for treating a child with ASD were significantly lowered from $6,000 to approximately $2,100 when parents used online connections, instead of in-person treatments.

“The online platform was used not only to connect families with specialists but to train parents in applied behaviour analysis (ABA), an intervention technique often used on children diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder,” stated the study.

An estimated ten thousand baby boomers are retiring every day, according to the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), and their rising demands for healthcare need to be balanced with cost and the ability to meet patient needs.

As many frontline hospital and clinic workers and primary care providers are already working at maximum capacity, with strained budgets, and a rapid rise in the number of aging people requiring additional medical attention and monitoring, an estimated two-thirds of hospitals and other health care systems have already rolled out remote patient monitoring.

RPM use looks to grow in the future as many of us age but want to remain independent and live lives to the fullest.

October 22, 2019, 1:17 PM EDT