Article by Joni Sweet
Technology has become a critical part of managing patients’ health. New devices allow doctors to keep an eye on a chronic illness by remotely tracking changes in blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other symptoms. Patients have much to gain from remote health monitoring, as well. They can trust that the data will directly influence their treatment plans. They also won’t need to fill their calendars with as many in-person doctor’s visits.
However, in order to maximize the benefits of remote monitoring, healthcare practitioners need to take some steps to make sure it is a positive experience for their patients. Physicians must make sure patients understand the goals of remote monitoring, how to use the device and what to do if they have concerns.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to care, here are some strategies doctors have learned work for patients when it comes to boosting patients’ confidence in remote monitoring.
Set goals for remote health monitoring with patients
The better your patient can understand the point of collecting health data, the more comfortable they will feel wearing a device. Explain the goals of data collection in clear, simple language they’ll understand.
“For patients with COPD, especially those who have limited ability to get around, we can glean information about any change in status on a day-to-day basis,” said Dr. Khavar Dar, pulmonologist and internal medicine physician at Odessa Medical Enterprises. “If the change is accompanied by other symptoms, we can then initiate treatment over the phone before things worsen.”
Physicians should also let patients know that remote monitoring devices can pick up critical changes in their health that they might not notice, potentially saving their life.
“As many as 90 percent of folks don’t accurately identify atrial fibrillation, which can increase your stroke risk. Since you can’t feel it, the symptoms don’t predict it, but monitoring can,” said Dr. Joshua Yamamoto, cardiologist and co-author of “You Can Prevent a Stroke.” “There are things doctors can do if they have that information.”
Demonstrate how to use the device
Remote health monitoring devices can be intimidating to patients. Offering a hands-on demonstration can give them the confidence they need to use the device at home.
“Before they leave the hospital, we teach patients how to use [any necessary devices] so they feel comfortable with it,” said Dr. Luke Benvenuto, transplant pulmonologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Give them tips on how to avoid common mistakes and get an accurate reading.
“Sometimes what happens with pulse oximeters is that patient puts it on their finger, gets an incorrect reading and gets concerned because the numbers are too low,” said Dr. Dar. “We recommend patients come to the office to learn how to read it properly.”
Finally, let patients know how frequently they should use the device. Are they supposed to wear it all the time? Get a reading when they wake up in the morning? Or just check it when they have symptoms? Set expectations so they know exactly what to do when they’re on their own.
Give patients a sense of what’s “normal”
It can be nerve-wracking for a patient to see fluctuations in the data collected by a remote monitoring device. Putting those numbers into the context of what’s normal can make patients feel more relaxed using the technology.
“We tell patients what’s worrisome and what’s not,” said Dr. Benvenuto. “There’s a lot of information they’re checking and they don’t know what’s relevant—they have to be taught.”
Patients also need to know the course of action they should take if they see a dip or a spike in the measurements. Explain if there are accompanying symptoms to be aware of.
“If the symptoms include shortness of breath, but the oxygen saturation is maintained well, then it’s less of a concern than if the symptoms are worsening and the oxygen saturation has also declined. Both things have to be taken into consideration together, not in isolation,” said Dr. Dar.
Warn patients that they should never adjust their therapy (such as taking additional steroids or antibiotics) without discussing it with you first, added Dr. Benvenuto. The data they see is informational—not prescriptive.
Be available for questions or concerns
Managing a chronic illness at home can be stressful, and using a remote monitoring device only makes patients more aware of their disease. To the extent that your practice allows for it, make your office staff available for questions or concerns as they come up.
“The ability for a patient to call us when the numbers are changing and talk about the results is key,” said Dr. Benvenuto. “It’s a challenge because it’s a very labor-intensive process for physicians, but it really helps manage this well.”
Remote monitoring devices give patients a degree of independence in staying on top of their conditions—but knowing that their doctor still has their back puts them at ease as the data trickles in.
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