New study forecasts increased use of remote patient monitoring

By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM
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Aging Baby Boomers are pegged as the major drivers of a rapid movement toward remote patient monitoring, according to a study by Spyglass Consulting Group.

Baby Boomers are leading consumerism in healthcare, said Gregg Malkary, managing director of Spyglass Consulting. They and others are taking healthcare into their own hands, he said, and helping to transform how it will be delivered in the future.

Malkary expects the use of remote monitoring – especially of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes – will become widespread over the next four to five years, especially after Medicare adopts telemedicine as a way to provide better care and reduce costs.

“This will take place much quicker than we think,” Malkary said.

Spyglass interviewed more than 100 healthcare organizations involved in telehealth including home health agencies, academic medical centers, regional hospitals, government agencies and disease management companies.

Sixty-five percent of organizations interviewed were making limited investments in remote patient monitoring solutions focusing on high-risk, high-cost patients with multiple chronic diseases.  Organizations are resistant to further investments until RPM solutions can be proven clinically and financially effective, the study found.

Boomers aside, the major impetus for physicians, hospitals and home health organizations to focus on monitoring their patients is cost. They need to keep patients out of the emergency room and out of the hospitals.

“There are simply not enough beds,” Malkary said. The healthcare industry is also coping with chronic labor shortages, he said, so it makes sense to deliver care “at more appropriate times” and to focus on preventive measures.

Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, agrees. He sees telemedicine as playing a key role in addressing spiraling healthcare costs while providing better patient care. Kvedar is director of Partners Telemedicine, part of the Partners HealthCare in Boston, which includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Telemedicine is already providing cost-effective solutions to making high quality, patient-focused care available outside the hospital or doctor’s office,” Kvedar said.

Partners Telemedicine, for example, is using “smart pill bottles” and cell phones to remind patients to take their medication. Partners Telemedicine also uses cell phones in the treatment of patients with diabetes or high blood pressure.

“We know that the management of hypertension generates over 17 million physicians visits, costing more than $40 million annually,” he said. “The mobile phone’s ability to deliver personalized content, whether they be reminders, education, or to give patients feedback about their own behavior can be powerful.”

“As we more fully integrate telemedicine programs into primary care practices,” Kvedar said, “patients, providers and payers will benefit from improved treatment outcomes, more effective wellness programs and cost savings to the healthcare system.”

A few barriers have to be removed for remote monitoring to really take hold, Malkary said. In his view, the cost of the devices and peripherals at about $3,000 to $5,000 now has to come down to a more affordable price of $300-$500.

“They should be sold through stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy,” Malkary said. That would make them more affordable and more accessible not only for keeping tabs on certain conditions, but also for wellness management.

The technology is a bit immature today, Malkary suggests, and it would benefit from the involvement of telecommunications companies and the consumer electronics industry, he said. Also, for telehealth to work as it is supposed to – for a patient in rural Montana to have access to a specialist in Boston, for example, clinicians have to be licensed to practice anywhere in the country rather than licensed in individual states as they are today, he said. And, finally, payers have to get on board with reimbursement, which they are more likely to do once Medicare leads the way, he said.