By Michael Seres, founder and CEO, 11 Health.
Hospitals across the globe are experiencing a demand incomparable to any event that most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Providers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic tirelessly and courageously dedicate countless hours and immeasurable amounts of energy to combat this virus, all while compromising their own safety and the safety of their families.
This strain on the health care system stretches far beyond patients with COVID-19, as people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, Crohn’s, cancer and their providers struggle with the best way to manage their illnesses. With few medical resources available and the risk of exposure to the virus, a new way of providing care is desperately needed.
The Case for Telehealth
One might ask how these patients receive the care they need if they are unable to physically visit their provider and support team. Many are being forced – or choosing – to wait indefinitely until the risk of exposure and provider demand declines. As the United States and every country moves forward and learns from this crippling pandemic, it is apparent that there is an absolute need for a bigger emphasis on remote patient monitoring and telehealth services to provide effective care. The need is so significant that legislation is being passed to support the uptake of remote treatment options and to ensure health care facilities have high quality internet connections.
Telehealth services allow patients to be seen by a provider through video calls, giving the traditional face-to-face feel that many experience in general appointments with their providers. However, the extent of the personal interaction may end with the action of the provider, such as a prescription or advice on at-home care options.
Remote Monitoring: From Improved Workflow to Empowering Self-Management
Remote patient monitoring typically includes a support platform that allows a patient to monitor and manage their disease, often with the support of their health care team, remotely and over a period of time. The term telehealth is often wrongfully used interchangeably with remote patient monitoring. The two work together, but are not the same. Telehealth interactions are often part of a larger, ongoing remote patient monitoring system.
There are various types of remote patient monitoring platforms. Some are created with the intent to enable easier workflow and patient management for the physician, others are created to support patient self-management. Some cardiology devices such as pacemakers and ICDs use remote patient monitoring directly by sharing data on the performance of the device and the heart’s response with the physician.
The physician can adjust the programming of the device or virtually connect via telehealth video calls with the patient to discuss issues such as medication compliance. Other remote patient monitoring platforms are more patient centric, interactive and directly support the patients both physically and emotionally. This type of remote patient monitoring is often executed through a mobile app and enables patients to self-manage their care with the support of medical professionals. Many remote monitoring platforms provide real-time data of health measurements to aid in the prediction of trends to prevent adverse outcomes, rather than reacting to events as they happen. A robust remote monitoring platform can significantly improve care and potentially outcomes for patients – especially when there is no option to receive in-person care.
Example Case: Chronic Digestive Diseases
Patients with severe digestive disorders such as Crohn’s, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease have a high hospital re-admittance rate post-surgery due to infection. We also see this issue in people who have an ostomy and patients recovering from colorectal cancer. The challenges these patients face are not limited to physical demands but emotional distress as well. Feelings of embarrassment and isolation are common, and the emotional challenges are amplified when these diseases result in ostomies. In these situations, knowing you aren’t alone in your journey is more helpful than you can imagine. As a patient myself, I’ve experienced the physical and emotional challenges people with chronic digestive disorders experience, which is what motivated me to launch 11 Health and provide patients with customized care.
With a remote patient monitoring platform, such as the Alfred SmartCare Platform, which provides a team of experienced patient coaches and specialized nurses through a mobile app, patients receive both emotional peer support and support from digestive disorder nurses in the self-management of their care. Offering support from nurses who specialize in digestive disorders helps to ensure patients are receiving customized care from people who truly understand their chronic illness.
Many of these patients have experienced long and traumatic health journeys and having access to patient-centric technology and virtual coaches who have endured similar ostomy and digestive disorder challenges is incredibly beneficial to the patient. With 24/7 care and support, this system can help reduce hospital readmission and improve the overall quality of care. In both of the cardiology and patient-centric remote patient monitoring examples, there is patient benefit in a normal, non-pandemic crisis world. The benefit of virtual services during this social distancing era is critically important for both chronically ill patients as well as the overall population of people who are working to reduce the exposure and spread of the virus.
The Path Forward
Technology is an incredibly profound aspect of our daily lives, yet the adoption of technology in the medical field has crawled in comparison to other industries. We should be utilizing the technology available to us to provide better care to patients and to alleviate demand on providers. The coronavirus pandemic has brought a lot of pain and suffering, but in the end, health care will be changed forever. It’s unfortunate that it took a crisis to show us the clear benefit and need for advanced technologies such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring. Moving forward, these services will likely become standard instead of being an added benefit. It will help us predict outcomes rather than reacting to them. Being able to provide preventative care doesn’t just avoid patient suffering, but can also alleviate administration burden and drive down overall health care costs.
As medtech providers, health care providers and patients, we collectively need to push for the transformation of remote patient care so patients of various illnesses can receive the care they need when they need it. If we aren’t using the technology that surrounds us and dominates every other aspect of our lives, we aren’t equipping physicians and patients with the best tools to manage, treat and prevent illness. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact far too many, I encourage others to consider and adopt technology to help the patients who need care but are confined to the walls of their home. I encourage people to continue to identify new and innovative methods of care that will help people stay healthy and live life with quality.