As hospitals manage the influx of COVID-19 cases, remote patient monitoring tools offer an increasingly attractive option to keep low-risk individuals at home and free up vital medical resources.
Remote patient monitoring, or RPM, is the use of digital technology to track a patient's vital signs in an outpatient environment like their home. The wide range of RPM tools now available include digital applications, wearable technologies and video conferencing.
A study is examining whether the Apple Watch could reduce the risk of stroke
Source: Apple Inc.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, traditional technology and consumer companies were moving into the RPM market as its popularity grew among patients and doctors. In 2019, Best Buy Co. Inc. acquired Critical Signal Technologies, which provides RPM services designed for seniors. In February, Apple Inc. and Johnson & Johnson teamed up to create the Heartline study, examining how the Apple Watch and an iPhone application could help reduce the risk of stroke in patients over 65 through early detection of atrial fibrillation — a common type of irregular heart rhythm.
A report by Kagan, a media market research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, in March estimated that the market for devices with medical sensors will grow from $136 million in 2019 to $319.3 million in 2024, heightened by the need to increase efficiencies and reduce costs across healthcare.
The expansion of RPM was given an official nod March 20, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed the restrictions on certain FDA-cleared, noninvasive RPM devices to allow doctors to monitor patients at home more easily during the coronavirus outbreak. This will "help eliminate unnecessary patient contact and ease the burden on hospitals, other healthcare facilities and healthcare professionals that are experiencing increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the FDA said.
Monitoring patients at home
Now companies with RPM tools in the U.S. and around the world are exploring ways their systems can be used to track, observe or treat COVID-19 symptoms.
In a March 30 news release, Australian health tech company ResApp Health Ltd. announced it was partnering with telehealth platform Coviu to offer its smartphone-based acute respiratory disease diagnostic test, ResAppDx-EU, for doctors to monitor whether their patients are exhibiting COVID-19 respiratory symptoms or have signs of another illness.
Providence St. Joseph Health's executive vice president and chief digital and innovation officer, Aaron Martin, told S&P Global Market Intelligence that in addition to the Seattle hospital's coronavirus chatbot, Grace, it has been using RPM systems during the coronavirus outbreak.
The hospital has collaborated with private health tech companies Xealth Inc. and Twistle Inc. to monitor patients who may have coronavirus symptoms but are not sick enough to be admitted. With this technology, Martin said, physicians are able to send patients home with a thermometer and a pulse oximeter — a device that indirectly monitors the oxygen saturation of the blood — to keep track of their daily readings remotely before deciding on the best course of care.
RPM tools have even been harnessed to monitor the coronavirus outbreak itself, by providing geographic data on the pandemic's spread. The New York Times reported on March 30 that Kinsa Health was collecting temperature reading data from its digital thermometers across the U.S. The start-up now has a national health map available for free that is providing information about the potential locations of COVID-19 infection clusters.
Providence, meanwhile, is working to provide information from its chatbot tool to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track where people are concerned about the coronavirus, according to Martin.
Remote devices for inpatient use
It is not only a case of RPM technology moving from the hospital ward to the wider world. BioTelemetry Inc., which created the mobile cardiac outpatient telemetry, or MCOT, device, said it had been contacted by various health systems to use its capabilities in hospitals and triage centers.
BioTelemetry's mobile cardiac outpatient telemetry device.
Andy Broadway, president of BioTelemetry division BioTel Heart, told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an interview that the MCOT device is designed to pick up any significant arrhythmia, or heartbeat irregularity, including atrial fibrillation. With the aid of cellphone technology also provided by BioTelemetry, this information can be sent to the company's 24/7 monitoring center, as well as being accessible by a patient's doctor.
The MCOT is serving an additional purpose during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Dr. Wayne Derkac, senior vice president of medical affairs for BioTelemetry. Doctors are able to use the device to monitor the effects of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin on patients' hearts.
Both drugs, which are being tested as a potential combination treatment for coronavirus patients, have the possible side effect of prolonging the QT interval of the heart, causing the organ to relax for too long, Derkac said. The MCOT device allows doctors to constantly monitor these effects while keeping healthcare workers safe — just one more example of the potential for this growing area of medical technology.
"Our computer algorithm doesn't have to go to the bathroom, doesn't get bored and it doesn't get up and move around. So basically it's always there, and it's always on and it's always monitoring," Derkac said.