At Wellstar Health System in the northwest metro Atlanta area, keeping the patient at the center of every decision made is a guiding principle. As telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) capabilities have expanded, Wellstar has recognized the importance of these platforms in creating and maintaining patient engagement and collaboration.
The system’s original telehealth platform was launched in 2015 and was focused on stroke management. As the telehealth platform expanded over the years, an RPM feature was added to monitor congestive heart failure (CHF) patients within the home health space. This addition allowed patients to be connected virtually with providers within 48 hours of discharge, rather than the typical two weeks to set up a home health visit. Another plus was that the continuous monitoring and access to care led to a decrease in hospital readmissions, which is an all-too-common occurrence with CHF patients.
Like so many other providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wellstar adapted its existing RPM platform to a new population. Covid patients were sent home with a pulse oximetry device to monitor their respiratory status for 2-3 weeks. This program was a success – none of the Covid patients in the program had to be readmitted to the hospital.
As healthcare shifts to a post-pandemic status, Wellstar is looking to the future. A more robust RPM platform is being planned to cover chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and COPD. But one thing being kept in mind is to make sure patients are ready for RPM. Said Sally Eckford, assistant vice president of virtual health at Wellstar, "One thing you do learn quickly is that all patients are not tech-savvy, so you need to make the (process) super super simple. These people need to be comfortable.” It’s one thing to give patients the proper equipment for RPM and connect them to care providers, but patient concerns and issues need to be addressed.
This train of thought has led Wellstar to consider patient comfort and collaboration as it moves forward with RPM planning and looks at RPM as a partnership-building opportunity. Thanks in large part to Covid, telehealth and virtual care are here to stay. Telehealth and RPM platforms provide a means to extend care pathways to the home setting. By creating and maintaining collaborative partnerships with patients, healthcare organizations can provide care guidance and health and wellness promotion.