Remote patient monitoring correlates with sharp drop in hospital charges

The number and length of hospitalizations, as well as hospital charges, all significantly declined when rural and underserved heart failure patients were remotely monitored, according to research published online this month in Telemedicine and e-Health.

For the study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Flagstaff (Arizona) Medical Center, Northern Arizona Healthcare and the University of California, Merced examined the efficacy of a wireless remote monitoring program dubbed "Care Beyond Walls and Wires" on 50 patients admitted to Flagstaff Medical Center. The patients, who were given broadband-enabled remote monitoring devices, were studied over the course of a year, agreeing to use the program for up to six months.

The devices regularly measured each patient's weight, blood pressure, heart rate and pulse oximetry; that information then was passed from the devices to a secure Web portal for a nursing care coordinator to review.

Overall, the average number of hospitalizations decreased 44 percent from 3 to 1.7, while average days hospitalized decreased 64 percent from 13.2 to 4.8.

Average total charges dropped a whopping 72 percent, from $129,480 to $36,914.

Other research previously published in Telemedicine and e-Health found telehealth chronic disease self-management programs to be effective for boosting care access to isolated areas. What's more, a review of research led by former American Telemedicine Association President Rashid Bashshur published in the same journal touted telemedicine's effectiveness for treating chronically ill patients.

Despite the findings, though, the study's authors were hesitant to say that the use of technology alone was the reason for the reductions in the use of healthcare resources.

"Although we were unable to match the enrolled patients on key demographic variables and dates of hospitalizations, a range of unknown variables such as type or severity of HF condition, comorbidities and/or the presence of a supportive home environment could have differed between the enrolled and matched controls," the authors said.

To learn more:
- here's the study (.pdf)