By JON BLOOM
The rate of adoption for virtual care and remote monitoring solutions has skyrocketed over the last year as access to in-person appointments has been limited, but despite the uptick, we’re still drastically underutilizing their potential. These solutions often focus on treating a singular episode or chronic condition, when in fact they can open the door to more wide-ranging proactive monitoring and care that can have huge benefits in the long term.
By simply offering a touchpoint for patients to interact with the health care system through solutions like remote monitoring, providers can detect and address all sorts of problems before they escalate and require more intense, expensive interventions, even if the problem isn’t related to the primary purpose of the solution.
The downstream effects of these solutions are significant, both in terms of reducing the financial strain by eliminating unnecessary ER visits and hospitalizations, and in the long-term patient outcomes that are improved by catching problems early.
For example, a study from October we conducted with the Mid Atlantic Permanente Group found that one prevention program for patients at risk of diabetic foot complications also saw reductions in all-cause hospitalizations by 52 percent and emergency department visits by 41 percent. Despite the fact that the subject solution was originally designed specifically to help prevent diabetic foot complications, the touchpoint was able to have a profound impact on overall health and total cost of care.
This follows previous research on other condition-specific remote patient monitoring solutions that showed similar reductions in all-cause hospitalizations and mortality, further supporting the idea that these solutions can have broader impacts than just helping treat the condition they’re designed for.
These findings are especially significant considering many of these solutions, like the one studied in the October research, are often deployed to underserved populations who tend to be less likely to schedule care on their own, whether that be for a well visit or because they’ve noticed a change in their health. By putting devices in their homes and removing the burden of seeking care, we can move toward a future in which patients are able to get the care they need even if they don’t know they need it or don’t know how to get it.
Consider, for example, a patient who lives in a rural area far from their doctor, or one who may lack transportation, or have limited mobility. Regular tracking of any of their chronic conditions can be made much easier with telehealth or remote monitoring. And these check ins are often critical in catching potential problems early, whatever they may be, so they can be treated with simpler, lower-cost interventions.
As we look to the years ahead and ways we can repair the health care gaps the pandemic has further unearthed, we should focus on expanding the types of virtual solutions that can have benefits well beyond simply addressing singular issues. One of the “miracles” of digital health is expanding known care models to patients previously unable to use them. To have these broad effects, the important thing is not necessarily what’s being measured, but that the care model is so easy to use that patients can sustain long-term engagement. There are two ways this improves outcomes: the first is that patients who use one healthy regimen regularly are more likely to adopt other healthy regimens, e.g. walking more often or taking medications as prescribed. The second is the creation of a new high-quality relationship, which can help to reveal problems outside of what is specifically monitored.
The global pandemic has provided many lessons about how we can do health care better in the future, but relatively few solutions can be implemented with technology that already exists, helps dramatically cut costs, and improves outcomes for huge swaths of patients in need.
Dr. Jon Bloom is a board-certified physician and CEO of Podimetrics, a care management company with the leading solution to help prevent diabetic amputations.