Remote patient monitoring use soared among Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The study reviewed traditional Medicare claims from Jan. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2021, looking for remote patient monitoring (RPM) CPT codes. That included new codes introduced in 2019 for tracking general physiological data. Researchers then compared general RPM use during the pandemic to continuous glucose monitoring, a more specific case with different CPT codes.
They found general RPM use increased from 91 claims per 100,000 enrollees in February 2020 to 594 claims per 100,000 enrollees in September 2021, representing a 555% jump. During the same time, CGM use increased only 42%.
The study also analyzed how these RPM services were being used and by which practitioners. During the pandemic, 63.1% of general RPM was provided by primary care clinicians. Meanwhile, 19.7% was provided by cardiologists and 4.1% was offered by pulmonology specialists.
The most common primary diagnosis for RPM care was hypertension, representing 62.5% of RPM services. Diabetes made up 8.3%, while sleep disorders were cited for 3.9% of claims and hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol, for 3.5%.
The researchers noted that primary diagnosis varied within specialties; for instance, sleep and respiratory disorders made up 76.4% of general RPM for pulmonologists. Overall, hypertension monitoring by primary care providers dominated RPM use during the pandemic, making up 42.7% of services.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although still small, the growth of RPM could have a serious impact on cost if use continues. The study’s authors note many Medicare beneficiaries have hypertension, a huge use case seen in this analysis.
But they argue more research is needed to figure out when RPM will be most useful.
“Costs must be balanced with RPM’s potential benefits, such as reducing hospital admissions. Randomized clinical trials of RPM showed mixed results overall, but some targeted use cases showed promise,” the researchers wrote. “Further research is necessary to identify clinical scenarios in which RPM is most beneficial and to understand which patients are using it and whether there are groups facing access issues.”
THE LARGER TREND
A variety of companies are offering RPM technology. Biofourmis, which focuses on AI-backed monitoring as well as digital therapeutics, recently added another $20 million to its $300 million Series D raise first announced in April.
Connected health tech company Withings also launched its own RPM service using its wearables, scales and sleep mats, while Alio received FDA 510(k) clearance for a monitoring system that collects data on skin temperature, auscultation and heart rate.
Meanwhile, the Digital Medicine Society (DiMe) last month released four toolkits aimed at helping healthcare and life science organizations use sensor data from wearables and RPM systems at scale.