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The role of remote patient monitoring in chronic care

Wireless monitors like VitalStream™ can help to drive down the cost of chronic disease management and deliver better patient outcomes.

Chronic disease management (CDM) is one of biggest challenges facing global health. Chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are the leading cause of mortality in the developed world by far, and across the world they are projected to account for 69% of deaths by 2030.

CDM covers the management of a broad range of chronic conditions, from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma to types of cancer, HIV/AIDS, mental disorders, disabilities like visual impairment and certain diseases. For sufferers, clinicians and healthcare systems, they present a heavy burden, both physically and financially. In the US, the treatment of chronic conditions uses 75% of the total healthcare spend.

For over 10 years now, trials have been carried out into the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to manage more of the chronic disease burden remotely. Adoption has been slow, but now, thanks to wireless wearable devices like VitalStream™, there is a viable solution to the substantial health and economic impacts of chronic care.

Improving the patient experience

Because healthcare systems are traditionally centered around acute care in hospitals, chronic patients have not historically received sufficient education on their condition to know how to manage it themselves. They will typically be sent home and remain unmonitored until their next check-up or medical crisis. This traditional model is dangerous for the patient and expensive for the system.

The more desirable solution is to send patients home fully engaged in their own care and monitored on a regular basis. Rather than having to attend routine consultations, however, which is time-consuming and costly for the patient and their medical team alike, remote patient monitoring relieves the strain on resources by enabling patients to stay in the comfort of home while their vital signs data is reported automatically.

More regular monitoring yields better health outcomes too. While patients may be aware of the signs and symptoms they need to watch out for, they are not trained to pick up the more subtle changes, which can be an early warning of an impending acute event. Wireless remote monitoring will pick up these signs the moment they occur and raise the alarm with the relevant medical professionals, who can intervene. Early intervention is a proven lifesaver in many instances of acute episodes brought about by chronic conditions.

There is a further benefit for patients arising from this improved monitoring. Chronic conditions can seriously undermine a sufferer’s confidence, restricting them from leaving the house or pursuing healthy activities that can improve their mental and physical health. The knowledge that they are being constantly monitored via a direct connection with a clinician restores the patient’s confidence, which in turn can improve overall health and help to mitigate some of the secondary impacts of chronic diseases, such as absenteeism.

A more efficient health service

Remote patient monitoring makes for far more efficient use of medical resources, significantly increasing the number of chronic patients that can be cared for. The use of artificial intelligence in recording and analyzing vital signs data means many more patients can be managed by a specialist. Moreover, the range and accuracy of the data gathered by beat-by-beat ICU level devices like VitalStream™ gives doctors a much firmer foundation for their diagnoses.

Two further benefits that healthcare professionals will appreciate is the reduction in the volume of administrative tasks, such as manually updating data into electronic medical records, and exposure to potentially infectious patients – a factor that has been thrown into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For hospitals working within tight budgets and incentivized to reduce readmissions, telehealth from home has been shown to reduce costs by nearly $7,000 and decrease the chances of readmission by approximately nine per cent.

Furthermore, the recent impact from COVID-19, which saw hospitals swamped and medical teams stretched to breaking point, has shown the importance of moving patients out of the hospital environment wherever possible. Remote patient monitoring enables a more flexible healthcare system in which capacity can be increased at short notice in response to a major emergency, such as a pandemic, as evidenced by the work of Professor Rod McClure, Dean of Medicine at University of New England, and pioneer of the virtual hospital concept.

In McClure’s virtual hospitals, medical teams can keep track of hundreds of ‘beds’ at any given time, resulting in far more efficient use of resources and alleviating the strain on physical hospitals. And when the pandemic struck, a virtual hospital McClure was setting up in Australia was rapidly pressed into action for monitoring COVID-19 patients. By enabling infected citizens to stay in the comfort of their homes, unless their symptoms became severe, NSW Health was able to mitigate the risk to medical staff and other patients and to help contain the spread of the virus.

Ready to wear

Efficient home healthcare is an essential facet of CDM and the use of wearable remote monitors in facilitating care at home is our best chance of getting on top of the increasing burden from chronic medical conditions.

Patient confidence, medical time management, cost savings and, most importantly, patient outcomes have all been shown to be enhanced by the adoption of remote patient monitoring. It’s time for governments and medical authorities to pave the way for this technology to become the norm.

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