Combining hard, measurable data with interactive interaction and analysis, both subjective and objective data are critical to delivering high-quality patient care. And a key benefit of virtual care models like remote patient monitoring (RPM) is their ability to deliver both at once — and at much higher levels of quality than what was possible with traditional patient care.
What’s the difference between subjective and objective data?
Both subjective and objective data are necessary for proper evaluation of a patient’s condition, and to make the best informed decisions for that patient. But what are they, exactly? What’s the difference between subjective and objective data?
Objective data is hard information that generally can’t be questioned, like the results of a physical exam, or the readings from a blood pressure monitor, weight scale, blood glucose meter or other medical device. While accuracy may sometimes be prone to error — particularly if delivered by an improperly implemented RPM system — data of this nature is accepted as fact, not the result of analysis.
Subjective data, on the other hand, is the analysis of that information to determine a patient’s condition. This includes basic questions like “how are you feeling today?” and “have you been sleeping well?” But it’s also more than that — the combination of what the patient says, what their readings say, and how they behave are all interpreted within the larger context of their specific care regimen.
When understood within context, the differences between subjective and objective data are warning signs for skilled caregivers. Writing at her blog, Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN described a situation where a patient with an oxygen saturation reading of 99% told his attending nurse that he was feeling very short of breath — two contradictory data sets.
“Some nurses would’ve argued with him and told him that he’s fine, but my friend listened to him and took steps to relieve his dyspnea,” Wilson wrote. And the situation isn’t an unusual one. Though Wilson’s friend was able to take the steps needed to prioritize subjective over objective data, it doesn’t always happen that way — particularly when only one kind of data is being collected or considered.
Subjective and objective data are also the basis for SOAP, a documentation method often used by nurses and other clinicians. An acronym for Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan, a SOAP note is an important framework for gathering and assessing data “in a structured and organized way,” as Vivek Podder; Valerie Lew and Sassan Ghassemzadeh explain in a recent book on the topic.
SOAP “helps guide healthcare workers use their clinical reasoning to assess, diagnose, and treat a patient based on the information provided by them,” the authors add. “SOAP notes are an essential piece of information about the health status of the patient as well as a communication document between health professionals. The structure of documentation is a checklist that serves as a cognitive aid and a potential index to retrieve information for learning from the record.”
In this context, an ideal care delivery model would give nurses and physicians the ability to gather the subjective and objective data that’s essential for SOAP notes as well as high-quality patient care in general. It would also offer the ability to cross-compare and contrast this data in a way that leads to the best possible efficiencies and outcomes.
How RPM collects and improves subjective and objective data
Delivered using a range of medical devices, remote patient monitoring is designed to give healthcare providers near-continuous access to hard, objective patient data — and lots of it. Thanks to rapidly developing technology, members of the care team can now access critical patient information at any time using a variety of RPM devices.
These devices give doctors, nurses and other qualified members of the care team a closer look at vital signs and other critical patient data than was ever before possible. And when incorporated with advanced data analysis and reporting tools, that data is also managed, organized, and presented to the care team in a way they can readily interpret.
All of this objective data has the immediate impact of helping avoid sudden deterioration and hospital readmissions. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to treating patients with chronic conditions like hypertension, COPD or advanced kidney or heart disease. Yet the act of interpreting the data to meet these goals also qualifies as that other essential type of information — subjective patient data.
Subjective data is also collected from regular consultations between the patient and the care team, which are required for RPM reimbursement. By regularly speaking with patients, caregivers can better assess their day-to-day condition. And information gained from RPM devices provides a baseline by which to match those responses, and determine if the subjective and objective data are aligned.
Regular consultations are also required true of other care management models that leverage RPM, such as chronic care management (CCM), principal care management (PCM) and transitional care management (TCM). See the CareSimple Reimbursement Tree for a full list of reimbursement amounts for these care models.
And, just as it does with objective data, RPM can also improve the quality of subjective data. By automating certain aspects of the data capture process, and then seamlessly transferring that information to the caregiver’s EHR system, RPM makes critical data available to everyone who needs it, almost instantaneously. It also helps reduce errors in the notes and reports written or dictated by busy doctors and nurses.
When delivered at the top of their capabilities, then, telehealth models like RPM are an important tool to provide not just near-continuous patient monitoring but also regular communication — the two pillars of subjective and objective data. It also offers a helpful basis for interpreting and validating that data, which can lead to better-informed medical decisions and, ultimately, better outcomes and overall care.
And if you’re looking for details on reimbursement for remote patient monitoring, chronic care management, or other current management models, download our Reimbursement Tree today.