Technology today offers unlimited opportunities to improve health care services. One of those opportunities is remote patient monitoring (RPM), a type of telehealth that uses digital technology to monitor a patient's health away from a health care setting.

With RPM, a health care professional in one location can see data collected in real time from a patient in a different location.

It's no surprise remote monitoring programs increased in value when COVID-19 increased the risk of in-person office visits.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded Medicare coverage for RPM and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a policy allowing approved non-invasive devices to monitor vital signs used in remote settings.

Smart watches, clinical sensors and personal emergency response systems are all tools health professionals can use to track health data in real-time from remote settings. Currently, the most used devices are blood pressure monitors, weight scales and glucose monitors.

“Remote patient monitoring is developing and maturing and is especially important in the management of heart failure,” says Chris LaCoe, vice president of virtual care for Penn State Health. However, he says there's uncertainty about whether reimbursement authorized for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency will continue after the pandemic ends.

There are tons of software apps and device manufacturers on the market, LaCoe says.

WellSpan Health is using RPM through WellSpan Online Primary Care, currently only offered to their insured employees.

“A team of nurses monitors patient personal health and medical information collected via electronic technology from a remote location,” says WellSpan spokesperson Ryan Coyle.

Coyle says RPM is helpful to evaluate the effectiveness of a new blood pressure medication or assess heart failure by monitoring weight gain or loss.

Research indicates RPM is a good tool for the senior population. Garden Spot Village retirement community in New Holland has partnered with Somatix Inc., a New York-based artificial intelligence software company that provides an RPM solution to health care providers.

Garden Spot rolled out a pilot program of the Somatix SafeBeing 24/7 monitoring platform to residents of its Meadow View memory support community in October 2020.

“Residents wear a smartband with a sensor, which collects, analyzes and communicates safety and well-being of residents in real time to staff,” says Melody Karick, Meadow View director of memory support.

Along with Karick, the staff includes LPN supervisors, clinical care, admission and program coordinators.

The smartband uses Bluetooth to connect to the cloud and currently is paired with cellphones which serve as a data collection hub, says Andrew Dietzel, Garden Spot Communities chief information officer.

The SafeBeing platform offers movement detection technology that monitors the following: decline in sleep quality or quantity overtime; decline in activity over a period of time; wandering beyond designated safe zones; risk of dehydration; emergency alert; reminder to wear the band.

“Garden Spot is a super-innovative organization and we're proud to be partnered with them,” says David Futoran, head of partnerships and products at Somatix.

Futoran says Meadow View is a good test market for the noninvasive monitoring product and can help identify any problems.

The biggest problem, Karick says, has been keeping the smartband on residents’ wrists 24/7. It was too easy for a resident to remove the snap-on/snap-off band. Futoran solved the problem by providing band cuffs to slide over the buckle, making it impossible to remove the smartband.

“The wearable band becomes our 24/7 physical eyes to profile patients’ activities and detects variations creating cause for concern,” Karick says.

The technology eliminates the need for hourly room checks, she says, so residents get better sleep for a better day ahead.

Along with the smartband, SafeBeing includes several other components. A caregiver dashboard or web interface alerts, reminds, notifies, and provides insights and predictive analytics to health care professionals. There is also a user app for the resident’s phone and a caretaker app for caregivers or family members. During the pilot testing of the platform, only staff are using the dashboard and apps.

Currently, four of the 37 Meadow View residents are wearing the smartband. Family members were given the option to have residents participate in the pilot program.

“We wanted the residents to feel comfortable and didn't want to pressure them to wear the band,” Karick says.

Pleased with the monitoring results so far, Karick and Dietzel look forward to the updated SafeBeing platform Futoran expects to be available from Somatix by the end of the year. The new version will have enhanced functionality for better communication, heart rate monitoring, oxygen saturation, medication management and intake detection, a HIPAA-compliant chat feature and symptoms surveys.

“It will have Wi-Fi capability, eliminating the need for the data collection cellphone hub,” Dietzel says.

Eventually, Garden Spot will use the SafeBeing technology campuswide. The community is giving independent living residents the opportunity to participate in a future pilot program with the smartband paired to a smartphone.

Steve Lindsey, Garden Spot Communities CEO, says he believes technology will play an increasingly important role in every healthcare environment.

“Wearables, such as the Somatix system will help identify health issues more quickly, provide documentation, improve outcomes, assist with communication and, ultimately, free up staff to spend more time with direct care of the people we serve,” he says.

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