mHealth reaps sweet rewards: Improved readmissions, patient satisfaction

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Sentara Healthcare, based in Chesapeake, Va., originally launched its remote monitoring program of chronic care patients to supplement staffing--and then it got an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise.

"Our readmission rate for all patients monitored is now only 2 percent. For patients with congestive heart failure (CHF), it's less than 1 percent," said Ray Darcey, head of Sentara Enterprises, the organization's home monitoring program. That's compared to a 15 percent 30-day readmission rate for the rest of its patient population.

Sentara's remote monitoring program uses Bluetooth technology and touch-screen devices to track discharged patients daily; if an aberrant reading triggers an alert, Sentara contacts the patient and, if necessary, sends a caregiver to the patient's home to follow up.

It's especially helpful for those patients who are "frequent fliers," Darcey said.

What's more, patients and providers already are familiar with the technology, as all of the components--from wireless technology to touchscreens to mobile devices--have become commonplace.

"It's not rocket science," he said. "The technology is not all that difficult."

Encouraged by evidence of the myriad benefits of remote healthcare, an increasing number of hospitals--both large systems and small community or rural hospitals--are considering launching their own remote health programs. The technology has been shown to reduce readmissions, improve outcomes and increase patient satisfaction and loyalty. It can also cut costs and is projected to offer even greater financial returns under shifting reimbursement models, as well. 

Driving down readmissions

Research evidence is piling up that remote monitoring works to reduce readmissions. Consider the following:

  • Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System's remote monitoring program cut its readmissions by 44 percent, according to a recent study.
  • The University of Ottawa Health Institute said it cut hospital readmissions by 54 percent for its heart failure patients, saving up to $20,000 for each patient successfully diverted from an emergency department visit, readmission and hospital stay.
  • A recent British study found that remote monitoring cut emergency admissions by 20 percent and reduced mortality rates by 45 percent.

Still, organizations considering a remote care program should carefully select target patients, as some studies suggest remote monitoring isn't right for everyone. Researchers at Mayo Clinic and Purdue University found remote monitoring did not improve readmission rates among older adults with multiple health issues, for example.

At the moment, at least, the technology seems most suited for patients with conditions that put them at high risk for readmission and that are easily tracked through vital signs and glucose level readings; heart disease and diabetes are two good examples of conditions that are well-suited for remote health programs.