How Remote Patient Monitoring Can Protect Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Robin Hill

At least 230,000 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19 across the globe and more than 600 nurses have now died from the disease, according to data from national nursing associations analyzed by the International Council of Nurses in June.

With healthcare workers and their loved ones at risk, provider organizations are looking for ways to leverage technology to keep their workers healthy while continuing to deliver essential healthcare services in their communities. Increasingly, they are looking in a familiar place—remote patient monitoring (RPM)—but with a twist. Now, in some cases, those patients are also employees.

RPM offers many benefits to providers and patients. Two in particular stand out during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, by using digital technologies to collect health data from patients in one location and electronically transmit that information securely to providers in a different location, RPM enhances safety by enabling patients and providers to maintain social distance. Second, by enabling a provider such as a staff nurse to monitor hundreds of patients at one time, RPM helps healthcare organizations rapidly scale up their care, which is essential as the pandemic stretches many providers’ resources thin.

Keeping first responders safe with RPM
Global Medical Response (GMR) is the largest medical transportation provider in the U.S., with fleets in  46 states and the District of Columbia. As part of its work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, GMR has sent workers to the front lines of the national response to COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic. After a few employees were directed by local health departments to self-quarantine due to possible exposure, GMR’s leadership understood they needed to find a way to monitor the health of frontline workers with a comprehensive, systemic process from one centralized location.

As a result, GMR rolled out Vivify’s COVID-19 Screening Pathway, which enables employees to self-report their temperatures and any potential symptoms they may have, as well as ask questions to nurses and conduct virtual visits with providers. Employees file quick and simple reports from an app on their phones, enabling nurses to monitor users’ health conditions without placing either nurses or employees at additional risk of COVID-19 exposure.

GMR has used the RPM solution’s rules engine to create alerts instructing nurses to contact employees who may be at risk of developing COVID-19 based on the information they self-report. For example, when an employee enters a temperature that exceeds their previous reading by 2% or more, a notification is sent to a nurse, who contacts the employee about the change in condition. The employee is then instructed to self-isolate for 48 hours while nurses continue to monitor the employee’s vital signs for additional changes. Similar protocols are put into effect when GMR’s first responders come into contact with known COVID-19 patients or perform high-risk procedures such as airway intubations.

What RPM does for providers
Separately, other provider groups are using RPM in similar ways to keep their frontline health workers safe. One health system has enrolled frontline employees in the Vivify screening program, requiring them to answer a set of symptom-related questions and take their temperatures before being authorized to work at a care site. For their own safety, workers are also required to go through the screening process again at the end of their shifts.

Another health system has implemented similar safety protocols for surgeries, requiring all patients to complete the Vivify COVID-19 screening process prior to undergoing procedures. Additionally, patients traveling from regions identified as hot spots must show 14 consecutive days without symptoms before receiving authorization to undergo surgery.

For provider organizations, the ability to scale care using RPM enables them to monitor a vast number of patients with a small number of nurses, freeing up valuable resources for other patient-facing activities. Furthermore, providers often find that RPM catalyzes improvements in patient engagement. Self-reporting and daily monitoring of their own health data to an RPM platform inspires patients to seek ways to partner with their providers to improve these measures, while providers can use the platform to share educational materials with patients.

Nonetheless, the greatest benefit of RPM remains its ability to improve safety for patients and healthcare workers alike. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the world’s well-being depends more than ever on the health of its healthcare workers.

Robin Hill is chief clinical officer of Vivify Health.