Telepsychiatry has expanded rapidly in recent years to meet the demand for psychiatric care. As patients and providers became more familiar and comfortable with the virtual care space during the public health emergency (PHE), they encountered some unanticipated hurdles. One of these hurdles was figuring out how to safely collect patients’ vital signs when they may no longer be required to go to on-site offices and clinics to receive care.
The following five points outline opportunities providers and organizations have to adjust their operations for safely and effectively collecting patients’ vital signs and other data with telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
1. Have individuals acquire their own remote patient monitoring equipment
Patients may acquire home-based remote patient monitoring equipment, such as scales and blood pressure cuffs, for personal or shared use with their families. Like a family thermometer, remote patient monitoring equipment in the home will likely become more common and affordable over time. Increasingly, the equipment has Bluetooth capabilities. Data readings can be linked to mobile devices for personal tracking. The data can then be uploaded into secure patient portals. In these portals, patient data is shared with an individual’s healthcare team.
Many local pharmacies and large retail stores now offer on-site equipment and services for patients needing home equipment to obtain accurate routine vital signs like blood pressure, pulse, and weight. This equipment is becoming increasingly available in community spaces such as schools, workplaces, and local community and public health centers.
As smartwatches and fitness tracking devices continue to increase in popularity, many of these wearables can also be used for telehealth and remote patient monitoring devices, involving minimal restrictions or impact on a person’s lifestyle. From wristbands and armbands to chest straps, patches, and clothing-based monitors, these devices offer the potential for more regular and consistent readings of many vital signs throughout the day and night. Some devices even track heart rhythms as long as the devices are worn and powered up.
2. Purchase and send equipment to patients
While store-bought equipment like digital thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, and diabetes monitoring equipment have become more accurate, reliable, and affordable, they are generally not cheap. While patients with Healthcare Savings Accounts (HSAs) can increasingly use those funds to purchase remote patient monitoring equipment, some clinics have found grants to support purchasing and mailing remote patient monitoring equipment for patients to use at home.
3. Extend times between patients for in-office vitals
In locations where clinic offices are open and staffed, before and after normal office hours, patients can have their vitals taken in the office on a “drop-in” or “drive-by” basis. Patients should ask their healthcare providers if these options are available at their local clinic, and discuss the frequency and type of services that would best meet their patient’s healthcare needs and goals.
4. Utilize information from other providers
Coordinating patient care with other providers at different healthcare sites can be challenging. Still, increasingly Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and EHR-based patient portals can promote effective and HIPAA-compliant sharing of important health information such as routine vital signs, glucose monitoring, and other important patient health data.
Suppose patients are seeing different providers or specialists in other locations. In that case, even if those visits are conducted remotely, the patient should ask the clinic staff how their vital signs, and other health information, can be safely shared with their other healthcare providers. Sometimes this request is as simple as signing a Release of Information to allow secure data sharing between providers.
5. Adjust requirements and expectations for vital signs
In the past, it has been reasonable to expect vital sign checks every visit for every patient, especially for patients seeking care for physical health issues. As hospitals, clinics, and healthcare providers and their staff continue to adjust their workflows to include remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and “hospital-at-home” models, expectations for patients and providers also need to evolve.
Providers should carefully consider which patients it is medically necessary to obtain vitals from and at what frequency. This consideration is critical since getting this information from every patient on every visit is much more challenging in a telehealth setting.
Empowering patients to be informed and involved in their ongoing healthcare decision-making and workflows, including vitals management, is critical to meeting the demands of patients, providers, and healthcare organizations.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can incorporate telehealth and remote patient monitoring into your behavioral health approach, contact us today. We’d love to chat through your options and help you determine the best steps forward in achieving the best patient care possible.