The COVID-19 pandemic has caused plenty of supply issues for the healthcare industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration highlighted these issues with its recent list of medical supply shortages, which includes 20 different items.
It’s clear that medical providers can’t get everything they need. What isn’t as obvious is a different kind of supply and demand problem plaguing the medical field — a shortage of patient information.
How is COVID-19 hindering providers from collecting patient data? Unfortunately, the pandemic has disrupted the traditional methods of patient monitoring through in-person visits and stays at long-term care facilities. For instance, hospitals in areas with high infection rates might not have space to keep patients under observation. Or patients may choose not to stay in a long-term care facility because of an increased risk of getting COVID-19. This means that providers have to find new ways to monitor their patients.
That’s where remote patient monitoring (RPM) comes in. RPM allows healthcare workers to monitor their patients’ conditions from their homes. This keeps medical staff and patients safe while enabling practitioners to collect vital health data.
In this post, we’ll provide a quick overview of remote monitoring and consider how to use it in your telehealth practice and how to keep your remote monitoring program legally compliant.
An overview of remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring is a subset of telehealth that focuses on tracking a patient’s long-term health. It includes monitoring patients through telehealth tools, conducting virtual visits, and following up with patients through phone calls or texts.
Remote monitoring is typically used for patients who fall under two categories:
- Patients who have serious chronic conditions, like heart failure
- Patients who are likely to have a sudden deterioration in their health, such as those who’ve just had major surgery
These patients often need help managing their health, but their fragile condition makes it difficult for them to have extended stays in the hospital or to make it to in-person appointments. Why?
In addition to being more likely to get a severe case of COVID-19, many patients who qualify for monitoring have mobility concerns that make it difficult to attend in-person appointments. With the hardships involved in traveling to a healthcare facility, some patients don’t want to bother going at all. However, this reluctance to go to the doctor in person may mean patients are more willing to explore other healthcare options.
One survey found that 64 percent of patients at or over the age of 40 would be willing to wear a health monitor if it reduced how often they needed to visit the hospital. As this survey shows, patients aren’t opposed to getting the healthcare they need; they just want an easier way to obtain it.
Hospitals and practices that add an RPM program to their services give patients an easier option for receiving care, which improves their patients’ overall satisfaction. Of course, before you can offer remote patient monitoring, you need to prepare your practice.
Getting started: How to set up your remote patient monitoring program
Remote patient monitoring comes with its own set of legal regulations, online services, and tools. In fact, there are so many different services out there that analysts project the healthcare mobility solutions industry will be worth $276.6 billion by 2027.
How can you choose the right service for your practice? First, you have to ensure it’s HIPAA compliant. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal medical and personal data protection law that requires healthcare practices to follow certain requirements for online healthcare tools and services. These requirements include restricting access to sensitive information and ensuring that telehealth tools securely transfer patient data.
Because HIPAA affects so many areas of healthcare practices, it can be difficult to distinguish what you need to do for RPM programs in particular. Let’s explore that below.
Invest in security features for all of your devices
Every telehealth practice needs electronic devices. After all, these devices can help you handle logistically challenging tasks, like collecting patient data, doing patient outreach, and scheduling appointments. While these devices allow you to access sensitive patient data, keep in mind that if you don’t secure your devices, unauthorized users can also access that patient information.
Whether you’re buying dedicated devices for your practice or using your personal computer, all your telehealth devices should be secure. Some simple ways to keep your devices safe include implementing password policies, encrypting communication channels, and installing a remote data wiping safeguard in case someone loses a device or a device is stolen.
Investing in security features for your devices is one way to keep your RPM program HIPAA compliant. However, all of that work could go down the drain if you connect these devices to unsafe third-party tools. How can you choose secure software tools for your practice?
Use HIPAA-compliant software tools
Remote patient monitoring relies on wireless tools and healthcare apps to send patient data to medical providers. However, there’s more to consider than functionality when it comes to picking out software tools. Any tool that sends medical data to another person or organization has to be HIPAA compliant.
Thankfully, there are many RPM tools that meet HIPAA requirements. Some of the most popular HIPAA-compliant software providers include JotForm, Dexcom, Senseonics, Medtronic, Resideo LifeStream, and Philips. For more information, check out our in-depth guide to RPM software.
Each of these software tools can provide important medical information — such as vital signs and blood sugar levels — for RPM programs. By tailoring the tools you provide patients to their specific health issues, you’ll receive the data you need to monitor their conditions. How can you ensure that you give patients the right physical tools for their medical problems?
Create remote monitoring toolkits for your patients
If you want to collect patient health data remotely, your patients need to have the right telehealth equipment. However, many patients don’t know what tools to buy for their condition. Some healthcare providers create their own telemedicine kits and design different kits for different health conditions.
By creating these toolkits in advance, medical professionals can ensure that patients have everything they need to start monitoring their health. These toolkits can include equipment like blood pressure cuffs, blood glucose meters, virtual stethoscopes, wireless scales, thermometers, digital otoscopes, pulse oximeters, and medication tracking patches. Each of these tools can deliver essential medical information directly to the provider and to the patient’s smart device.
Although your patients may have the tools they need to monitor their health, some of them may not know how to use health monitoring equipment correctly, which means it’s up to you to train them.
Train your patients to use their RPM tools
When patients use them correctly, telehealth tools are an invaluable part of remote patient monitoring. This can be a challenge for some patients, though. Thankfully, patients are often willing to learn how to use these tools if you’re willing to train them.
While some providers may wonder where they’ll find the time to train all of their RPM patients, this training doesn’t have to eat up all of your time. Try posting virtual training sessions on your website that show how to use common healthcare monitoring tools. If you notice that patients are still having technical problems, you can also set up a helpline. Patients can then call and speak to a healthcare worker for advice and information.
Once your patients can operate their telehealth tools, you can begin the monitoring. As you track a patient’s medical data, you may discover treatment changes and optimizations that could improve their health. To discuss these new options with a patient, you might need to set up a telehealth appointment with them.
Choose secure videoconferencing platforms that will keep your patients’ data safe
Videoconferencing platforms have become one of the most popular ways to conduct virtual healthcare visits. Unfortunately, some of the most popular video platforms aren’t HIPAA compliant. While the recent relaxation of telehealth restrictions has allowed providers to use nonpublic-facing platforms that aren’t HIPAA compliant, these platforms can present real security threats to your patients’ data.
In contrast, a HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing platform protects your patients’ and your practice’s data. For example, a compliant platform will follow HIPAA’s safety guidelines, such as signing a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your practice and encrypting data processed through their service.
Which videoconferencing platforms are good at safeguarding Protected Health Information (PHI)? The best HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing platform options include Doxy.me, thera-LINK, TheraNest, SimplePractice, and Zoom for Healthcare. You can also find more videoconferencing solutions in our guide.
A secure videoconferencing platform is an important part of conducting telehealth visits. But, like in-person healthcare visits, you must have vital information from patients to conduct effective virtual visits. That’s where online forms come in.
Use HIPAA-compliant online forms for every part of the RPM process
Telehealth visits and RPM programs thrive on patient data. By collecting patient information, you’ll have a better picture of patients’ overall health, and you’ll be able to expedite essential parts of healthcare visits, such as billing.
The easiest way for you to collect this patient information is through an online form. You can use online forms throughout your remote patient monitoring program to gather a variety of information, from patient consent for a procedure to insurance and billing information.
Setting up online forms doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, JotForm offers specific templates you can use as a starting point for creating the forms you need, such as this athlete monitoring form. Plus, you can easily make JotForm’s healthcare forms HIPAA compliant if you sign a BAA and are on either a Silver or Gold JotForm plan.
Once healthcare providers have received their patients’ data, they can begin gleaning important insights into their patients’ conditions. It can be hard, though, for healthcare employees to send this reliable medical information back to the patient. Implementing a secure text messaging service allows medical staff to update patients on their health while keeping their data safe.
Secure text messaging services can help you keep patients on track
Not every problem requires a virtual healthcare appointment. Sometimes, patients simply forget to use their telehealth equipment, or they might need a reminder to start taking their new medication. For smaller issues like this, a quick message is often enough to get your patients back on track.
However, you can’t just use any text messaging service. A HIPAA-compliant text messaging service ensures that your patients’ PHI stays safe. Some of the best HIPAA-compliant messaging services include OhMD, TigerConnect, Providertech, Halo Health, and Spok. Check out an overview of what these different services offer and what their price points are.
So now you have the necessary tools and the communication channels, and everything is HIPAA compliant. Your telehealth practice is ready for patients. But remember to make sure it stays HIPAA compliant.
Monitor your HIPAA compliance
You’ve chosen HIPAA-compliant services and informed your patients of the risks involved in telemedicine. It may seem as though your HIPAA compliance is done. But, much like a patient’s health condition, your telehealth practice’s security level can change rapidly.
As your business grows and changes, your security needs will evolve as well. To help keep up with that, it’s important to focus on a few important tasks:
- Conduct regular risk analysis assessments. These assessments can help reveal gaps in your practice’s security.
- Sign a BAA with all service providers. Every HIPAA-compliant online service should be willing to sign a business associate agreement with you.
- Use HIPAA-compliant third-party vendors. This includes the companies you outsource tasks to, your email provider, and your data storage systems provider.
- Appoint a HIPAA compliance officer. A HIPAA compliance officer can focus on keeping up with new HIPAA regulations while you focus on running your practice.
Some healthcare practices fall behind on their HIPAA compliance and end up facing steep legal penalties. In contrast, monitoring your RPM program’s HIPAA compliance ensures that you’ll be able to help your patients while leveraging the most innovative solutions.
Your remote patient monitoring program can be a success
The current pandemic has caused many medical shortages, including a shortage of patient information. By setting up a remote patient monitoring program, you can collect the data you need to help your patients manage and improve their health.
At JotForm, we can provide the tools you need to create your RPM program. Our telemedicine toolkit offers secure, HIPAA-compliant online forms and services that can get your RPM program up and running.