Intermountain Healthcare has added a Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) program in all 23 of its hospitals in Utah and Idaho to monitor patients with COVID-19 who don’t meet criteria for hospital admission, but warrant closer outpatient monitoring.
The Intermountain COVID-19 RPM program allows for real-time at home monitoring of COVID-19 patients to ensure care for patients and to reassure patients who are recovering at home that they’re safe to stay at home and prevent a return trip to the hospital.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think COVID-19 is going away. And as our surge continues, our hospitals will continue to be at or near capacity levels,” said Joseph Bledsoe, MD, director of research in the department of emergency medicine at Intermountain Healthcare. “Having these types of programs available will help us to safely keep patients in their own home and reserve those hospital beds for those who have higher levels of care requirements.”
The Intermountain RPM program sends qualifying patients home with a pulse oximeter that’s a portable device to monitor vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen saturation levels.
The device is connected to their phone or tablet via Bluetooth. The patients are asked to take their vitals at least twice a day. Once the oxygen levels are detected it sends a signal back to a monitoring center where skilled technicians are monitoring their vital signs around the clock.
Patients will get a phone call from the center if they have a concerning oxygen level, heart rate or go more than 18 hours without taking their vitals.
That’s exactly what happened to Highland, Utah, resident Valerie Jackson, 71, in early September.
Jackson went to the hospital, suspecting COVID-19 due to her cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, but when she got to the hospital her oxygen levels had improved. Since she had no one at home to help monitor her health, doctors enrolled her in the RPM program, sending her home with a hand-held pulse oximeter and orders to check her levels at least twice a day.
Jackson says she was sleeping a lot and when she failed to measure her oxygen levels, she got a call asking her to be more diligent.
When her oxygen levels dropped, Jackson got another call from a nurse practitioner, saying her numbers were too low and to get to the hospital. That’s exactly what Jackson did.
She spent a few days in the hospital but is now home and giving thanks for a program that she says saved her life and allows her to recover in the comfort of her home.
“I wouldn’t have known when to go to the hospital,” said Jackson. “This brought such comfort to me and my family. Everyone was all so kind.”
Currently, Intermountain is monitoring about 200 patients and 2,000 have already gone through the two-week monitoring program.
“We deploy somewhere between 30 to 50 kits per day from the emergency departments throughout the system,” said Dr. Bledsoe. “It’s provides a really high level of reassurance knowing that you can check your oxygen levels anytime you want, but also knowing that there’s someone on the other end who is checking to see if it’s abnormal and will call you and tell you what to do next.”
There is no out-of-pocket cost for patients who participate in this program.
Intermountain also recently expanded this program to allow physicians the option to send patients home with oxygen, as well as the oximeter, if their oxygen levels drop when they are exerting themselves while walking. The Home O2 program is available at McKay-Dee, Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Hospital, Dixie, Alta View, LDS and Riverton, with plans to expand to additional Intermountain hospitals in the next four to six weeks.
Next, Intermountain plans to expand the RPM program to its InstaCares clinic across the Intermountain system.
“The RPM program is an important tool with which we can care for more patients safely as our COVID surge continues,” said Mark Shah, MD, Medical Director of Disaster preparedness at Intermountain Healthcare.
For resources and more information about COVID-19, visit intermountainhealthcare.org/covid19-coronavirus.