Remote patient monitoring (RPM) allows clinicians to track and record a patient’s condition from another location using a system of tools and technologies. It’s become integral to many types of care management, empowering providers to deliver high-quality care outside of a traditional hospital setting. Enabling these capabilities is a variety of remote patient monitoring devices that serve diverse needs, from remotely measuring a patient’s body weight to tracking their blood oxygen levels from home.
What follows is an examination of the most common RPM devices – how they work, what they monitor, and how they can support a patient’s care journey.
Blood pressure monitor
A blood pressure (BP) monitor measures a patient’s systolic and diastolic blood pressure. BP monitors can also identify irregular heartbeats. The system usually includes an adjustable cuff that wraps around the upper arm or the wrist and a cord-connected device that shows the BP readings digitally. The American Heart Association recommends using an upper-arm monitor for the most reliable BP measurements.
Remote BP monitors are typically easy to use. Once the patient slides on and secures the cuff in the right place, they simply relax their arm on a flat surface and press a button to start the process. The measurement is usually complete within a minute or two.
Remote blood pressure monitoring systems can help manage the following conditions:
1. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
2. Kidney disease
3. Congestive heart failure (CHF)
These remote patient monitoring devices can be used to manage other conditions, including arrhythmias and other cardiovascular diseases, and track readings for people at considerable risk of developing hypertension or conditions related to elevated BP.
When a patient records their BP remotely, the data can allow providers to intervene in the event of a blood pressure surge or an irregular reading and check the patient’s condition more often to make timelier, better-informed decisions.
A pulse oximeter, also known as pulse ox, measures the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood and their pulse rate. The small device is usually placed on the fingertip and uses light beams to capture pulse oximetry. Pulse oximeters will typically display two or three numbers, including the oxygen saturation level as a percentage, the pulse rate, and the strength of the signal.
To use the device, a patient simply slips the device on the finger, relaxes their hand below heart level, and presses a button to begin the reading. The device will then display the reading digitally, though it may take a few seconds for the numbers to stabilize. The device can be removed once a reading is recorded or left on to continuously monitor the vital signs.
Remote pulse oximeters can help manage the following conditions:
pulmonary disease (COPD)
Pulse oximeters can also be used to monitor oxygen saturation for patients receiving anesthesia, assess blood oxygenation in patients with respiratory difficulties, and track potential respiratory depressant effects of pain medications. These medical monitoring devices can be leveraged to monitor any condition related to blood oxygen levels or pulse rate.
When a patient records their pulse oximetry remotely, providers can monitor their vital signs more frequently to better manage their condition, whether they’re at a new phase in the transition of care or have a chronic condition that requires regular visibility.
Blood glucose monitor (BGM)
A blood glucose monitor, also known as a glucometer, measures a patient’s blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Remote blood glucose monitors often come in kits that include disposable strips, lancets, a lancing device, and a digital device to show and transmit results.
To measure their blood sugar levels, a patient must insert a lancet into the lancing device then pierce the skin on their fingertip with it, just enough to draw blood. Then, they must press the blood onto a disposable strip that can be inserted into the reading device. Once the strip is inserted, the device rapidly tests the sample of blood and reports the resulting glucose levels, usually within seconds.
Remote glucose monitors can help manage the following conditions:
Type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes
These remote patient monitoring devices help patients keep track of their blood sugar levels regularly and avoid low blood glucose emergencies. They can also be used to track hypoglycemia and other conditions related to blood sugar levels.
When a patient records their glucose levels at home, they can better follow doctor recommendations, and providers can leverage the data to adjust treatment.
Continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
A continuous glucose monitor performs the same functions as a regular blood glucose monitor; the key differentiator is “continuous.” Whereas a regular blood glucose monitor provides a manual snapshot of blood sugar levels at a single point in time, a CGM automatically records glucose levels throughout the day and night, typically every five minutes or so.
Continuous glucose monitors require a sensor to be placed on the patient’s skin or implanted underneath it. A patch may be used to keep the sensor, which is usually located on the upper arm, in place. The sensor then collects readings 24/7. These measurements can be sent wirelessly to a patient’s mobile device.
Remote continuous glucose monitors are a suitable alternative for patients who can’t or don’t want to manually test their blood sugar levels (such as children) or those who need more comprehensive monitoring of their blood glucose due to higher health risks. By remotely tracking this data, providers can keep a better eye on their patients’ glucose levels and adjust insulin pumps as needed.
Body weight scale
A weight scale measures a patient’s body weight. To use the scale, the patient simply stands on the device, which will power it on and record a reading in seconds. Measurement of weight is usually in pounds or kilograms, and some scales can store multiple readings as a history of past weight.
Remote weight scales can help manage the following conditions:
2. Type 2 diabetes
A sudden change in weight may be a potentially serious symptom of numerous conditions, including but not limited to endocrine disorders, intestinal disease, renal failure, malignancy, infections, chronic debilitating diseases, and more.
Remote weight scales provide a fast, easy, and accurate way to measure body weight without an office visit, providing information that’s essential for all types of care management, from elder care management to chronic care management and beyond. With this data, providers can intervene if a patient’s condition appears to be deteriorating or make appropriate treatment decisions or lifestyle modifications.
A spirometer measures how much air a patient can breathe in and out of their lungs and the volume of exhaled air over time (in other words, how fast and strongly the patient can blow air out of their lungs). There are many types of spirometers, but remote spirometers often come in the form of a turbine flow meter, which records the rate at which turbines turn and derives the measurement based on proportionality.
To use a spirometer, a patient must place the mouthpiece into their mouth and between the teeth, making a tight seal around it with their lips. Then, they must breathe in as much air as possible, briefly pause at total lung capacity, and exhale for as long as advised (usually until the lungs are emptied). The test may be repeated to ensure a reliable result.
Remote spirometers can help manage the following conditions:
4. Cystic fibrosis
5. Pulmonary fibrosis
Measuring forced expiratory volume, forced vital capacity, and other data concerning a patient’s pulmonary function can help diagnose, treat, and monitor lung conditions, and it can help providers understand if a treatment is working effectively.
These remote patient monitoring devices wirelessly send the patient’s recordings to their mobile device and their care team for review. Providers can then remotely check and manage the patient’s condition and make decisions on how to provide the best care for them.
Transmitting Patient-Generated Data: Bluetooth vs Cellular
There are two connectivity options that healthcare organizations and patients should be familiar with before using any RPM technology.
Most RPM devices use Bluetooth® (BTLE) connectivity. BTLE RPM devices, typically referred to as peripherals, can be cost effective. But they also must use a hub — such as a tablet, smartphone, or standalone device — to capture readings from the devices to transmit to the cloud.
Not all patients have familiarity with, or even access to, this technology. A potentially more patient-friendly approach is cellular connectivity. Cellular devices are RPM devices with built-in cellular transmission capabilities.
A traditional hub is not required for cellular RPM devices to transmit data. Patients also don’t have to worry about having an app, pairing a device, figuring out a complex setup, or even having Wi-Fi connectivity. This opens up more inclusive access.
Supporting 24/7 remote patient monitoring
The best remote patient monitoring devices can sync with a provider’s EHR (electronic health record) software and their clinical systems, delivering results securely and in near real time. Some may require Bluetooth connectivity to send data to these systems wirelessly, while others do so over Wi-Fi or via cellular transmission — the latter tending to be the easiest method for patients.
These devices support many care models, from elder care management to tracking patient vitals during the transition of care. Their 24/7 monitoring capabilities empower providers to gain more insight into patient conditions over time, make more-informed care decisions, and achieve higher-quality health outcomes.
Looking for the right medical monitoring devices for your needs or wondering how to start leveraging them to support patient care? Contact CareSimple today and discover how we can help.