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How RPM Provides Value Through the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

December 17th, 2020 | 7 min. read

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For years, the traditional healthcare model was built around in-office care delivery. Through technological advancement, the collection of valuable patient data is now possible outside of the clinic via Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM).

RPM is a valuable Medicare program that can treat conditions ranging from debilitating, chronic diseases to recovery from acute episodes of care.

We have written about the benefits an RPM program offers to both providers and patients already, but the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the value of RPM for many.

Medicare has made policy changes that have opened many more practices up to the implementation of an RPM program. These changes were spurred to limit the risk of in-person patient visits and ensure the continuation of quality care for the most at-risk patient populations.

While some of Medicare’s policy changes are only temporary for the duration of the pandemic, this time gives providers a window of opportunity to develop, implement, test, and improve their very own RPM programs.

By taking advantage of Medicare policy changes now, you’ll not only be providing a higher level of care to your patients during a critical time, but you will set yourself up for continued success once the pandemic ends.

We have seen many practices start their own RPM programs in the past year and do so effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, many RPM success stories have already been written about across the country.

In this article, we’ll break down the difference between RPM and telehealth, how RPM is being leveraged for the good of patients and providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how you can set your RPM program up for success long after the pandemic ends.

The Difference Between RPM and Telehealth

When the pandemic hit, CMS made many changes that eased restrictions on telehealth, such as lifting the location requirements to allow providers to deliver telehealth services to patients in their homes, regardless of whether they are new or existing patients.

Although these changes impact telehealth, they also impact RPM by extension since RPM is a subset of telehealth.

While telehealth broadly refers to all health care activities that are conducted through telecommunications technology, RPM specifically focuses on the collection, transmission, evaluation, and communication of patient health data from electronic devices.

These devices include wearable sensors, implanted equipment, and handheld instruments.

All told, CMS implemented 85 new, temporary CPT codes to expand telehealth services during the pandemic and open the program up to more patients and providers.

The Value of RPM During the COVID-19 Pandemic

RPM can collect a vast amount of valuable patient information that can be especially helpful in treating COVID-19 patients.

Non-invasive devices, like those that measure body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure, can help physicians track those higher-risk patients safely and securely from the comfort of their homes.

This remote delivery of care is especially important for COVID-19 patients who may be asymptomatic or who may not be experiencing severe symptoms. By carefully treating those patients outside of a healthcare facility, you are freeing up hospital space for the most at-risk patients and alleviating strain on the system.

Another beneficial byproduct of this remote care delivery is the limiting of the spread of the virus to others. Without those patients traveling to and from their doctor’s office or the hospital, they are minimizing the risk of spreading the virus while still getting the care they need.

Lastly, if a COVID-19 patient is being monitored via RPM, hospitals can be prepared ahead of time if their conditions worsen and require hospitalization. Healthcare providers will have received notice of the patient’s health and be able to prepare accordingly to expedite arrival processes and reduce risk even further.

The Pandemic Highlights Key Benefits of RPM

Many medical programs have instituted RPM during the pandemic to great success, highlighting some key benefits of the program.

Continuity of Care

At St. Luke’s Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, providers found yet another added benefit to RPM during the pandemic: continuity of care.

For most patients that contract COVID-19, after their initial hospital stay, they still require follow-up appointments to monitor their health and recovery. RPM bridges this gap, allowing providers to monitor the patient from afar without the need for an in-office visit unless their RPM data dictates.

For one of St. Luke’s patients, his numbers did just that. St. Luke’s patient Ken Miller tested positive for COVID-19 during a round of chemotherapy and spent five days in the hospital. After his initial stay, he was enrolled in the hospital’s RPM program and sent home with supplemental oxygen.

One day after his discharge, the RPM program alerted Ken and his care team that his oxygen levels had dropped and a return to the emergency room was required. Ken spent an additional four days in the hospital and stayed on RPM for two weeks after his second hospital.

This is the value of RPM in action.

Ken was quickly alerted of needing emergency care and enjoyed the added benefit of being safely monitored from afar while he recovered at home with his family.

The isolation of quarantine can be hard for many, especially when patients are stuck inside a hospital. If their health allows, and an RPM program is in place, patients can be safely treated from the comfort of their own home.

Keeps Hospital Beds Available for Most At-Risk Patients

Back in April 2020, Providence St. Joseph Health in Washington worked with two digital health startups to quickly deploy remote monitoring technology for COVID-19 patients.

The health system gives patients who are exhibiting symptoms (but are well enough) a thermometer and pulse oximeter and are monitored from home by Providence’s remote patient monitoring team.

Before the pandemic, Providence supported about 10,000 telehealth visits each year, according to Ali Santore, senior vice president of government affairs and social responsibility at Providence.

As of December, Santore says Providence conducts nearly 12,000 telehealth visits each day.

This has greatly reduced the strain on availability of beds and staff at hospitals across Washington.

Better Protects New Moms

During COVID-19, the Boston Medical Center (BMC) began using RPM to remotely monitor the blood pressure of new moms who had conditions that classified them as high-risk for stroke after pregnancy.

Through RPM, BMC hoped to better manage the health outcomes of these new moms and limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19. In the first eight weeks, 80 women participated in BMC’s new RPM program, with more than 1,200 blood pressure readings submitted and reviewed.

BMC has discovered that the ability to monitor blood pressure during telehealth visits has become critical to keeping new mothers safe; managing their care from their home, and keeping them out of the hospital unless absolutely necessary.

The Value of RPM After the COVID-19 Pandemic

The shift towards telehealth and RPM was slowly happening for years prior to the pandemic. Since COVID-19 began spreading, the shift to these remote healthcare offerings has increased dramatically and looks to continue even after the pandemic ends.

The three success stories above are only the beginning, as these programs will remain in place post-COVID-19.

One silver lining of this terrible pandemic that has affected so many is the advancement and adaptation of healthcare. RPM has shown to effectively adapt and scale to support large patient populations in many beneficial ways.

For healthcare providers looking to implement their own RPM program in a post-COVID world, there are a few tips to keep in mind. You want to seek RPM solutions that:

  • Can support multiple conditions and diseases
  • Can seamlessly integrate with your EHR
  • Have thorough data visualization, actionable insights, and clinical decision support

To give your RPM program the best chance for success, we highly recommend utilizing care management software to help you manage your program.

There are numerous benefits of utilizing a quality care management software solution. The features and tools included in various software solutions are specifically designed to more effectively and efficiently manage all Medicare programs, including RPM.

Thoroughcare’s RPM software solution is one example, as it provides extensive features and tools specific to RPM that make it the choice for hundreds of healthcare providers across the country.

Our solution showcases an intuitive design built for clinicians, by clinicians, with features including:

  • Registration of patient devices, with support for integration with over 350 remote monitoring devices
  • Tracking of multiple types of clinical data, from vital signs to blood glucose levels to work out details to sleep-related information
  • Visualization of clinical readings from within the patient care plans, including the ability to view multiple measurements across user-defined timeframes to help clinicians identify patterns in their patient's data
  • Configuration of target ranges (normal, caution, critical) for all data types, along with the ability to notify patients and clinicians through multiple communication channels (text, email, desktop notification) when patient readings fall outside of their physician's clinically-recommended range
  • Time management and billing capabilities to support adherence to the CMS RPM service requirements

Whether you’re a practice that is looking to provide better care during the COVID-19 pandemic or looking ahead to the future, RPM’s value is being exemplified across the country.

While some providers do worry about patient engagement, a well-run RPM program only serves to increase a patient’s engagement in their own health.

Want to explore how your practice can implement RPM and leverage this valuable program to benefit your practice and your patients? Contact us today to request a software demo of ThoroughCare’s software and see what our RPM solution has to offer.