According to the latest global health report from WHO, the majority of the world might not reach the 2023 target for life quality and expectancy, meaning we urgently need a solution to improve the population's health and wellness. During the COVID pandemic, healthcare professionals, researchers, and policymakers agreed that telehealth is one of the essential tools in population health management. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices proved then to be particularly vital for ensuring patient security and reducing hospitalisations. What’s more, since the pandemic is over, these gadgets have not lost their importance, as we now uncovered more ways they can be used to improve population health and quality of life.
What are remote patient monitoring devices?
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices enable the continuous supervision of a patient's vitals (e.g., blood pressure and glucose, oxygenation levels, heart rate, temperature) outside the clinical facility. The most widely used RPM devices are smartwatches and fitness trackers, thermometers, pressure cuffs, and glucometers. As the technology becomes more advanced and widespread around the world, more devices are added to the list, like smart rings and scales, ECGs and stethoscopes, breathing monitors, and prenatal monitoring devices.
Health determinants improved with RPM
Health determinants are factors that influence an individual's health and include socio-economic status, physical environment, personal characteristics, and lifestyle. RPM technology can bring about significant impact in the following areas:
- Positive lifestyle changes
- Better access to healthcare services in underserved areas
- Improved comfort and quality of life of chronically ill patients
Positive lifestyle changes
Obesity and lack of physical activity are major health concerns worldwide, as they are linked to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. These non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have doubled their disease burden in the last couple of decades and are two of the main causes of death worldwide. Health monitoring devices like smartwatches and simpler gadgets like pedometers can give people insight into their daily activities and motivate them to move more.
The 2022 study published in the Lancet shows that people who wore activity-tracking devices took on average 1,800 more steps per day, walked 40 additional minutes, and exercised six minutes longer than those without a gadget. More importantly, over the course of six months, the participants kept to this regimen, which had a positive effect on their cardiovascular health. Taking the usual timeline for forming habits into consideration, researchers suggested that the participants will continue adhering to the created positive routines.
Remote accessibility of healthcare
Getting to the doctor’s office is an issue for billions of patients. According to the 2021 survey by the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center, transportation is the top access barrier between medical care and patients living in rural communities. The situation is even worse in the countries that have less developed infrastructures or fewer means of transportation.
Not being able to contact their healthcare provider frequently causes higher levels of stress that lower people’s quality of life and contributes to late diagnosis or misdiagnosis. In the long run, this leads to more extended hospitalisation, treatment complications, increased medical expenses, and higher health risks. In the meantime, remote monitoring devices can provide insights into patients’ conditions without the need to go to the doctor’s office or lab and notify patients and physicians when the situation is urgent. Here are a couple of prominent examples:
- Electronic thermometers help diagnose potentially dangerous inflammatory conditions and are vital to accurately assess the health state of young children that cannot communicate other symptoms.
- Wearable thermometers connected to mHealth apps also aid in understanding the menstrual cycle patterns for family planning and health purposes.
- Heart rate and blood pressure monitors enable patients to detect negative changes in their vitals early and reach out to their care providers or self-medicate, preventing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, and other common dangerous conditions.
Some remote monitoring devices are not necessarily affordable by the household and can instead be placed at the disposal of a general practice physician, a chiropractor, or a nurse in medically underserved communities. Such devices include:
- Portable EEG to spot epilepsy and other neurological conditions, detect the onset of episodes early, and manage them more effectively.
- EKG to better understand patients’ heart conditions and redirect them to a specialist if necessary.
- Foetal heart monitoring device to check for possible pregnancy complications.
Improved life quality for patients with chronic conditions
According to CDC, 51.8 per cent of US adults are diagnosed with at least one chronic condition, which is known to greatly undermine one’s quality of life. Remote patient monitoring devices help such patients understand their condition better, detect signs of its aggravation early, and receive timely treatment without frequently visiting a doctor's office or staying bedridden for longer periods of time for observation.
- Glucometers enable diabetics to keep track of their blood sugar at home, making it easier to avoid sharp glucose spikes and falls and reducing the harmful influence of this condition on patients’ nervous and muscle tissue and other organs.
- Asthma monitoring devices notify their users about a possible attack early, giving them more time to prepare and manage the episode better or seek professional help.
- Stability monitors help people with motor dysfunction understand if their condition gets better or worse and notify caretakers in case of a fall or other accident.
What’s next for RPM devices?
Thanks to their portable nature and relatively low cost, remote patient monitoring devices enable patients to manage their condition from any location and reduce physical and mental barriers between patients and healthcare. This plays a major role in disease prevention – a key strategy for improving healthcare worldwide.
The global RPM devices market is currently growing at an 18.9 per cent CAGR, according to Fortune Business Insights, meaning their proliferation among the developed countries’ populations will continue. However, healthcare industry players need to make such solutions more affordable for underserved communities that need them the most and educate patients and medical professionals on their benefits and correct usage.
Andrey Korzun is the Head of Healthcare Center of Excellence at iTransition.
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