What comes to mind when you think about remote patient monitoring?

The first thing most people think of are the various technologies that make this transfer of health data possible. They envision the remote monitoring devices that collect data such as weight, pulse, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, blood glucose readings and so on, and transmit that data back to a technology hub.

What isn't often discussed, however, is the human element that is the real power behind this type of telehealth.

Remote monitoring has risen in popularity within healthcare and other industries in recent years, thanks in large part to its remarkable ability to help reduce healthcare costs, while increasing patients' engagement in their own plans of care and wellness. Remote patient monitoring devices are becoming more common within all areas of healthcare.

However, those who only think of remote monitoring as a device are missing a huge part of the telehealth story, and the main reason the healthcare industry is seeing such amazing results from its use. Working with a telehealth provider who can help you choose the right technologies as well as help you respond to the data collected and interact with patients is the real key to success.

Who responds to the data that is transmitted?

These days, almost any device — from our phones to our watches can monitor vitals and provide health data readings. What these devices can't do, however, is give patients who might suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or congestive heart failure valuable feedback about changes that have occurred in their vitals and provide them with action plans to help get their levels under control and keep them out of the hospital.

Health call centers, on the other hand, do just that. They help high-risk patients and employees better manage chronic conditions, avoid preventable hospitalizations and lower overall healthcare costs for themselves, their employers and the health system at large.

Behind every successful remote monitoring program are the nurses, PAs, case managers and other qualified health experts in the health call center that monitor patient data and provide necessary follow-up to ensure each patient understands his or her diagnosis, is properly taking medications and progressing in his or her recovery. They provide the human touch vital to any patient's well-being.

In a typical health call center program, when a patient measures his vitals using a remote monitoring device, that information is securely transmitted to a nurse at the call center. The nurse can then read and translate the data, compare it to the patient's health records and/or care plan, and provide expert feedback in an instant. For example, if a patient's blood pressure is elevated, the call center nurse can immediately contact the patient and walk him through a plan that can help him lower that level.

Similarly, if the patient has a concern about his readings or feels otherwise unwell, he can contact his call center nurse. They can work together to ensure the patient receives the right treatment or adjustment to his care plan. Additionally, some telehealth call centers use interactive voice response (IVR) with their telemonitoring devices to follow up with patients who were recently discharged from the hospital, and allow them to answer case-specific questions about their progress.

The data collected via the call center then helps hospitals and case managers:

  • Improve patient education and self-care
  • Proactively recognize and treat emerging health issues
  • Reduce rehospitalizations

How do participants respond?

According to a recent study in Telemedicine and e-Health, patients who subscribed to a telemonitoring call center after their release from the hospital had fewer readmissions than those who didn't.

The study monitored nearly 900 acute myocardial infarction patients who subscribed to a telehealth call center. Of those 900 patients, only 52 patients were readmitted to the hospital, and 67 percent of those readmitted had problems eventually determined to be of noncardiac origins.

Telehealth nurses operate as a natural extension of a patient's coordinated care program, making sure that the patient understands his diagnosis and can properly adhere to his care plan. These individuals are the reason that telehealth has seen the success it has in recent years, and they will continue to be a vital part of the future of the industry.