WellPoint, Aetna, and Humana pilot remote monitoring to cut readmissions

Insurers are pursuing new ways to reduce the cost of hospitalization and readmissions, the Wall Street Journal reports. And it involves giving heart patients remote monitoring technology to take readings at home on key metrics such as blood pressure and weight. Data would then be transmitted to a case manager or care giver, who could catch and respond to any warning signs, eliminating the need rush to the ER with shortness of breath or a heart attack.

Using such technology may help reduce the incidence of heart failure, which is one of the biggest single claims expenses at insurance companies. It's a leading cause of hospital readmissions, with one in four patients returning to a hospital within 30 days, the Journal reports.

Electronic devices such as blood-pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, and wireless scales are among the remote monitoring technology insurers are piloting. The nation's largest private health insurance company, WellPoint (NYSE: WLP), has launched a pilot via its Anthem subsidiary in California to test a wireless scale and blood-pressure cuff. Aetna (NYSE: AET) is partnering with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) on a clinical trial to see how remote monitoring of patient vitals can reduce hospital admissions, while Humana (NYSE: HUM) is readying a test of wireless vitals monitoring technology that can link congestive heart failure patients by video with nurses if an intervention is necessary.

While there isn't much scientific literature yet to support reimbursement for such devices, Aetna number-crunchers believe 40 percent of these expensive readmissions can be avoided with proper post-acute care. One participant in WellPoint's Anthem program reportedly saved $30,000 in unnecessary charges between March and July at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles--not to mention his life--by getting an early warning of heart arrhythmia from his wireless monitor.

Several major health insurers are working on their own studies in hopes of keeping patients with congestive heart failure out of the hospital.

A study in the journal Circulation indicates that implantable defibrillators with wireless data transmitters reduced the frequency of in-hospital evaluations by 45 percent for a test group of CHF patients. Doctors were able to evaluate suspected cardiac events in less than two days with the defibrillators, vs. 36 days for a control group.

To learn more:
- take a look at this Wall Street Journal story
- read this study abstract in Circulation

Sandra Yin contributed to this article.