mHealth Summit 2012: Remote monitoring invaluable for reducing readmissions

Promoted as a solution for some of the most pressing issues facing the healthcare industry today, remote monitoring has been advocated as a method for improving efficiency and outcomes while lowering costs. One of the most attractive potential benefits of this technology, however, and perhaps the most timely, has to do with reducing readmissions.

That was the focus of a panel discussion Tuesday morning at the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C., presented by FierceMobileHealthcare. The panel included representatives from healthcare organizations who discussed how they are implementing remote patient monitoring to make measurable improvements in care and outcomes.

For instance, Alan Snell (right), Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Health, talked about a pilot program at his system showing how remote video-conferencing between nurses and discharged patients helped to reduce readmissions by a whopping 75 percent. Seven St. Vincent's hospitals and seven partner hospitals participated in the program with about 350 patients who were being discharged with diagnoses of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"It's been a two-year study that ends this month," Snell said. "The results to date are 5 percent readmission rate for the intervention group, 20 percent readmission rate 30-day in the control group--a 75 percent reduction. We were just amazed at the dramatic drop in the readmission."

Alain Labrique (left), founding director of the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative, said that while such a reduction in readmission is "phenomenal," when it comes to reducing costs, just a 5 percent drop in readmission rates can have a major impact.

"There are systems that we use for remote patient training and education, including videos on demand, to answer questions they have about their postoperative care that they can have streamed to their handheld devices," Labrique said.

Virend Somers (right), who serves as both a professor of medicine and a consultant at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, said his organization is using a remote monitoring system to provide a portable and flexible cardiac monitoring solution enabling physicians to monitor patients' biometric data, such as ECG, rhythm, and breathing, outside of the clinical setting. The system, Somers said, delivers high quality care by integrating all of that data and allowing doctors to visualize patient activity and physiology.

"The key differentiator is that this is not a device looking for an application," Somers said. "What we have is a set of problems, and this solution is a way to improve the quality of healthcare and decrease the costs."

Frances Dare (left), a senior executive for health consulting company Accenture Health Practice, said that remote monitoring isn't just about one technology. By combining integrated sensors, biometric devices and smartphones, she said, readmissions can be controlled and reduced.

Craig Kaiser, director of business development for AT&T, provided an industry perspective on remote monitoring, adding that wireless carrier networks are an "enabler" allowing for data transmission. According to Kaiser, there's still a lot to do with regard to improving network coverage.

"Coverage is very prevalent here [in Washington, D.C.] but there are so many gaps where you simply can't get the coverage needed to support some of these offerings," Kaiser (right) said. "When you talk about a blood pressure reading, it's fairly easy with little bits of data. When you move to video transmissions and having consults, there's still challenges there because there's a lot of data being used."