Today the healthcare industry faces significant challenges with long patient backlogs, a shortage of staff and resources, all of which has been exacerbated in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there are literally millions of people in the queue awaiting treatment and many more that simply haven’t come forward for care or referrals, as patients put off engaging with healthcare systems.

Those with minor problems and early-stage symptoms subsequently develop more serious conditions, which are harder to treat and in turn increase the cost of healthcare provision.

Demand is outstripping supply

The crux of the problem comes down to demand significantly outstripping supply. As more treatments become available and the population ages so this increases healthcare needs, with evolving and more complex treatment paths required. As healthcare providers desperately look at ways to release clinicians and professionals from the more routine or mundane tasks and free up their capacity to manage more challenging patients this has led to more patient and healthcare services moving to remote patient monitoring (RPM).

Today, RPM is transforming the way that healthcare is delivered, resulting in easier access, reduced costs and improved patient outcomes.

Fuelled by COVID-19, with hospital visits limited, RPM has grown exponentially. Rather than revert back to in-person appointments for monitoring or support, the use of RPM has continued to grow post-pandemic. Now, the ultimate goal for most healthcare providers is to have connected healthcare in every home that needs it, which is more than most of us realise. For example, one in three people worldwide suffer from hypertension, a condition that requires accurate daily monitoring to prevent serious illness.

Likewise, most of us don’t realise how much of a burden long-term conventional monitoring puts on healthcare providers. This type of monitoring is also restrictive and inconvenient for patients, which is another reason why RPM has grown in popularity, because it enables patients to be monitored and support delivered, even in hard-to-reach locations, delivering data back to medical teams to review and act on where necessary.

Regardless of where a patient is located, healthcare providers are better equipped to monitor, evaluate and respond to acute as well as chronic medical conditions in real-time with RPM technology.

Removing the barriers to RPM

However, the success of these solutions depends heavily on device connectivity, accuracy, and ease of use for the target market, which is typically older people who may have lower confidence with technology. This means that healthcare providers must remove patient barriers by making healthcare technology easier to use, so that patients can just turn on a device and take a reading without having to worry about faulty connections.

Currently there are two key technologies that are enabling RPM device communication: Bluetooth and cellular connectivity. Bluetooth has typically been the more conventional approach, however more recently healthcare providers have started to favour cellular connectivity.

So why is this?

To truly revolutionise the patient experience, doctors need daily readings of blood pressure, blood glucose, pulse oximetry, weight, and temperature levels so they can quickly identify changes and send out a professional, call a patient in, or alter medical care plans if and where necessary.

However, Bluetooth connections are proving unreliable with patients experiencing difficulties such as pairing their RPM device over Bluetooth with their mobile devices. Additionally, Bluetooth usually relies on the patient’s personal mobile device for data transmission, and this means that while data is uploading the patient is restricted to staying within Bluetooth range.

This also makes remote support more challenging and likewise App store data restrictions can limit the amount of data accessible from the transmitting device. This level of unreliability creates a lack of trust: trust in the device; trust in the accuracy of readings and trust around whether there is a genuine problem that needs to be acted upon.

Why providers are switching to cellular

This is driving the switch to cellular devices which offer wider coverage – where devices are always connected to the strongest network possible – and more flexibility, enabling patients to transmit data from wherever the cellular network is available. It also means that patient health data can be transmitted in real-time, which enables immediate alerts to healthcare teams in times of distress or difficulty.

But most importantly, particularly in relation to older patients who may not be as tech savvy, cellular RPM devices are more user-friendly; all patients need to do is press a button and take a reading as usual.

This not only increases patient satisfaction, but it also improves adoption rates and reduces the barriers between the patient and the healthcare team.

Not only is cellular connectivity revolutionising RPM but it is also fuelling significant growth. In fact, new research from connectivity experts Kaleido Intelligence has found that cellular data usage by the healthcare sector will increase almost 500% over the next 5 years, driven by an increasing use of connected healthcare both at home and in clinical settings.

In fact, Kaleido Intelligence is predicting that cellular connected healthcare devices will transmit nearly 90 petabytes of data annually by 2027. The new report, Healthcare Cellular IoT Opportunities & Forecasts 2022 notes that this increase in connectivity comes both as a result of necessity from the COVID-19 pandemic and due to the maturation of IoT.

Reliable cellular connectivity helping RPM to meet future challenges

Going forward, the NHS’ Long Term Plan 2019 (LTP) makes it clear that new models of health and social care are required to meet the population’s needs now and in future. England’s ageing population, the growth of chronic conditions and co-morbidities, and deployment of new technologies and treatments are all contributing factors to healthcare challenges.

RPM is one way that providers can reduce the burden on already over-stretched teams and cellular technology is revolutionising both the design and capability of healthcare devices. Delivering devices that are ready-to-use and work straight out-of-the-box is essential to enhancing the user experience, building both patient and provider trust and more importantly improve patient health outcomes.