Is COVID-19 a Tipping Point for Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)?

Paras Goel

Source: ThinkStock

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) has been growing steadily over the last many years. The global remote patient monitoring devices and equipment market was valued at about $1.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $2.7 billion at a CAGR of 15.8% through 2022, according to a Nov 2019 report: 'Remote Patient Monitoring Devices And Equipment Global Market Report 2020'.

But the COVID-19 pandemic may turn into a tipping point for RPM. There are several drivers of this coronavirus-induced acceleration: not only is it helping boost capacity of the healthcare system when it is coming under a severe strain, it is also helping keep doctors and nurses safe.

Before we talk about COVID-19 and the impact it is having, a quick reminder on why RPM has been seeing a healthy growth: there are plenty of tools now available that enable remote monitoring of patients in many different medical situations – from easy-to-use devices that individuals can use at home to measure their health vitals, to apps that make it easy for a doctors and nurses to view the information. Medical professionals are easily able to track patients’ blood pressure, breathing, and temperature, as well as the functioning of their lungs, heart, and other vital organs.

So, it is a no brainer that for people who test positive for COVID-19, home monitoring of symptoms by a medical professional reduces the risk of transmission, while also ensuring that hospital-based care can be provided in a timely manner if symptoms worsen. As an example, monitoring of SpO2 using a pulse oximeter (a device now common place in many RPM systems, including HealthIO) can provide a quantitative checkpoint to track the progression of infection.

Hospital systems are also turning to remote monitoring to “expand” their capacity. Case in point: Providence – a 51 hospital system serving communities in seven states. More than 700 positive or presumptive positive COVID-19 patients are already being helped with this solution at home. According to Dr. Todd Czartoski, their Chief Medical Technology Officer “Incorporating (a remote patient monitoring platform) in our clinical operations extends the reach of our front-line caregivers – enabling us to give them leverage to monitor patients effectively and efficiently – while keeping patients safely at home.”

Regulators are also ‘lending a hand’: FDA has issued guidance in March 2020 to provide a policy to expand the availability of non-invasive remote monitoring devices to facilitate patient monitoring while reducing patient and healthcare provider contact and exposure to COVID-19.

Unrelated to the current pandemic, CMS has in the recent past expanded the reimbursement for RPM services delivered for general supervision, and added a new code – 99458 – for patients receiving an additional 20 minutes of such services in a month.

As a result of these combined forces, providers large and small are thinking about these solutions. According to a 2019 Spyglass Consulting report, a large majority of hospitals and health systems – 88 percent – have invested in or plan to invest in remote patient monitoring technologies as part of their transition to a value-based care model. 

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is one such institution. According to Raj Khandwalla, a physician and director of digital therapeutics for the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai “We have to use a health care strategy that deploys resources throughout an entire community, and that’s where remote monitoring comes in.

Mayo Clinic is using phone and video consults to handle outpatient visits. It’s also talking with makers of remote monitoring tools about ways to keep closer tabs on patients with Covid-19 who don’t require intensive care, as well as patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure who require careful management.

Enough said. Time will only tell how healthcare industry uses this epoch-making event to redefine itself. But the future of telehealth companies seems bright.