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4 min read

Remote Patient Monitoring – More Access, More Demand for Support

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Imagine if patients were granted 3 wishes, what might they be?

  • To no longer be a patient.
  • A cure for their condition.
  • Easy access to their physicians!

While the first two wishes seem distant, the third is becoming a reality now that Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is on the rise. Isn’t it remarkable that we can alert our physician whenever we need clarification and reassurance?

“Hey Gastro, I just shared health data from my Apple Watch with you. My temperature is a bit high. What does this mean? Will I be fine?”

RPM has addressed a longstanding patient need for easier access to physicians, empowering them to manage their own health and ensuring they receive timely medical care. But as we know from experience, even the greatest solutions have a shadow side.

So, what’s the caveat?

Think about it.

Ease of access to physicians creates more opportunities for physicians and patients to engage with each other. And while everybody loves the idea of increased engagement in healthcare, another thing we know from experience is that too much of anything can be harmful.

There is a risk of over-using a technology, such as RPM, due to 3 human tendencies:

  1. Choosing the easiest and quickest option (i.e. Contacting the specialist vs. Googling symptoms)  
  2. Seeking answers from the most credible source (i.e. Calling the specialist vs. The GP)
  3. Repeating behaviors if they are followed by a desirable response (i.e. Patients may experience reduced anxiety and greater clarity after speaking to a specialist)

In this scenario, physicians may be faced with what we call an “engagement tax” for the excessive use of this new public good, Remote Patient Monitoring. This “tax” demands heightened attention, availability and involvement from physicians, adding more burden to an already demanding job.

Anticipated implications of “engagement tax”

  1. Higher Physician Workload:  
    • Patients may burden their physician with minor concerns instead of contacting their GP
    • Physicians may struggle to disconnect from work due to constantly feeling “on-call”
  2. Counter-productive Interactions:
    • Patients may over-alert physicians any time they notice any irregularity in their health, regardless of relevance
    • Physicians must take on extra emotional labor load to alleviate patients’ health concerns
  3. Diminished Trust:
    • Patients may feel that they can’t rely on their physician to be responsive during a perceived emergency if their expectations regarding physician response time and quality are not met

So how do we get the benefits or RPM without the ‘tax’?  

RPM is on the rise, as it should be for all the benefits it offers. And while we may never create a perfect tool, we can anticipate challenges, ideate solutions and build an efficient communication channel that supports physicians in their role and solidifies provider-patient relationships.  

But we have to do so with thought, research, and intention. By leveraging the following Design Principles as our compass in product development, we can maximize the value of this tool and mitigate potential drawbacks, while granting patients their wish:    

  • Transparency – Build features to help physicians establish clear expectations about their level of involvement, while ensuring their availability during emergencies.  
  • Minimizing Cognitive Load – Design features that reduce unnecessary patient-physician interactions without compromising critical communication.  
  • Building Confidence –   Enhance tools and features that re-direct patients from relying solely on physician's opinions and offer responses from credible sources.

Closing note:

Zarah Ghulamhussain is an Associate Strategist at FSi Strategy, a healthcare research, foresight and design consultancy. At FSi, our vision is to help lead critical transformation from a healthcare system to a HumanCare experience, putting HumanCare at the center of how we solve business challenges.‍‍

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