In this blog, we share two digital health trends: Hospital at Home and Remote Patient Monitoring. Learn how these trends can improve life for both providers and patients.
Vaccines are not the only medical innovations that emerged from the COVID-19 crisis. Over the past few years, the healthcare industry has witnessed a considerable digital transformation, including improvements to existing telehealth services so non-emergent patients who were encouraged to stay at home could still receive the care they needed. Advances in digital health – technology that enables remote doctor-patient communication and clinical healthcare – have led to greater efficiency in diagnoses and treatments, smoother patient experiences and improved patient outcomes.
However, the medical industry faces another challenge, one less acute but no less critical. As healthcare costs are rising, baby boomers, the generation born from 1946-1964, are aging. At an estimated population of 73 million, baby boomers are the largest adult population in the country whose life expectancy continues to increase, posing a problem to an already congested healthcare system.
Because baby boomers are living longer, they will require many years of age-related medical services, ranging from health maintenance to treatment for chronic diseases. Medical professionals are already grappling with the growing, aging population, striving to ensure they give patients the care and attention they need with limited staff and resources. But, as the aging population and cost of healthcare continue to grow, many patients will struggle to afford the care they need — healthcare costs add up in the long term, even without medical inflation.
Digital health trends can alleviate some of the stress on doctors and patients alike. Two of this year’s most influential digital health trends, Hospital at Home and remote patient monitoring (RPM), have the potential to reduce congestion within the healthcare system and to meet patient needs efficiently and cost-effectively.
Remote Patient Monitoring
What is RPM?
RPM uses electronic devices to record a patient’s medical data, from weight to blood pressure, for their provider to assess. RPM is ideal for patients with chronic conditions. Instead of going to several routine checkups per year, patients can keep track of their own vitals, which their providers monitor to determine whether an in-person visit is necessary. Many RPM solutions also manage a patient portal that stores patient data and provides families and caregivers the tools to view and engage with that data as well.
Because chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) require consistent, long-term care, they drive medical innovations that support patients and prevent emergencies. New digital healthcare trends are applying advanced, model-based and learning algorithms to RPM.
RPM Medical Technology Trends
A wearable pulse oximeter is a popular digital health tool for those with COPD, a chronic condition that enflames the lungs and obstructs airflow. Because COPD makes it hard to breathe, flare-ups can be dangerous and require immediate attention.
A wearable oximeter measures the level of oxygen in a patient’s bloodstream, uses AI to review and process that data, and sends data outside of a normal range to a provider in case of an emergency, all while being non-invasive. Other pulse oximeters include Bluetooth enablement and can send a text message from a paired smartphone to the provider in an emergency.
Similarly, a wearable Bluetooth-enabled patch can help patients recovering from COVID-19. A pilot program by the University of Illinois provided patients with a wearable patch, a pulse oximeter and a paired smartphone. The patch is programmed with machine learning, AI that continually reacts and adapts to new inputs of data, to create a profile of a patient’s typical vital signs so it can alert providers when oxygen levels become concerning.
Some RPM innovations are even iPhone friendly. Apps like Eko and Littmann Learning use AI algorithms to work as digital stethoscopes. Developers programmed these apps to detect abnormal heart rate patterns so they can help doctors identify heart murmurs, narrowing and leaking valves, and arrythmias.
Opportunities for Digital Health Advancement
The largest opportunity for RPM innovation is data integration. Applying AI-infused data from wearable RPM devices to electronic medical records (EMRs), digital versions of paper charts in a doctor’s office, can make patients’ normal vital levels easily visible and accessible and ensure that patients’ medical information is always up to date.
Incorporating the same AI-infused data into electronic health records (EHRs), a database of medical records to which all a patient’s doctors have access, will keep all the patient’s providers updated on their condition and enable each provider to track data over time.
Hospital at Home
What is Hospital at Home?
It’s all in the name. Hospital at Home provides hospital-level services from a patient’s home, so long as patients have a willing network of caregivers, supportive RPM technology and a hospital bed (often covered by insurance).
For example, the Mayo Clinic’s Advanced Care at Home program provides patients with “a computer tablet for video visits with [the] Mayo Clinic Health System care team, a telephone that connects directly to [the patient’s care team, a personal emergency response bracelet, vital sign monitoring devices, a router for internet access and a backup power supply.” These patients have 24/7 virtual access to their care team and devices that keep track of their vitals 24/7, so they can receive top-level care from the comfort of their own homes.
The Financial Breakdown of Hospital at Home
Hospital at Home programs support patients with chronic conditions and challenging recovery plans, so they don’t have to make frequent doctors’ office visits or pay for a long-term stay in a hospital. Patients in Hospital at Home programs might pay for the infrastructure of their at-home service not covered by insurance, but afterward, they would pay only for the care they receive, not where they receive it.
A recent study comparing the costs of acute condition care for an average of 30 days between inpatient and Hospital at Home care showed that Hospital at Home patients saved $5,000. Patients with chronic conditions or long-term recoveries can expect much longer than thirty days’ worth of care, so Hospital at Home programs equipped with digital health trends could decrease patient spending while increasing patient comfort and outcomes.
Opportunities for Digital Health Advancement
For Hospital at Home to be effective, healthcare providers need a strong technology infrastructure to support doctor-patient communication. Investments in technology like fiber internet can support fast and reliable information exchange between home and provider systems and provide those in rural communities with top-level care.
Digital healthcare trends like RPM and Hospital at Home encourage a holistic approach to medicine – one that prioritizes the well-being of doctors and patients alike by considering the financial needs of patients and the growing patient load in the medical community.
Investing in medical technology trends that use AI and machine learning can make remote routine checkups more standard so that in-person services can treat patients in critical conditions with the care they need.