Turning the Digital Health Corner: How RPM Is Future-proofing Primary Care
Disconnected patients. Declining revenue. The scene at Pinellas County Primary Care was less than ideal in late 2020. After raging for nearly a year, the pandemic had yet to reach its peak. And status quo telemedicine—a lifeline connecting millions of clinics to their patients—wasn’t cutting it for the many elderly and sick patients at Pinellas, who needed frequent care.
With pressure mounting from all sides, Michael Wanger, MD, an internist and president at Pinellas, knew he had to think differently. This was no time for a stopgap solution. The pandemic, he realized, represented an opportunity to restructure, modernize, and future-proof the way the practice delivered care in the long term.
The new Pinellas, he imagined, would deliver:
High-touch care and better patient relationships. Pinellas’s patients expected and deserved both. One 15-minute visit and one blood pressure reading every year wasn’t improving clinical or financial outcomes.
A hedge against this pandemic (and the next one). Pandemic-proofing the practice meant ensuring Pinellas could deliver high-touch virtual care. When the world reopens, the approach would add a layer of convenience for patients with lower mobility, who could avoid unnecessary travel and receive care from the comfort of their homes.
Alignment with the future. Many industries used the pandemic to speed innovation and rethink the redundancies of the “old normal.” Why shouldn’t Pinellas do the same? Dr. Wanger envisioned a future where he spent half his time working from home, using clean data to direct and delegate patient care—and then he set out to build it.
So, what would it take to accomplish this? Remote patient monitoring (RPM), he realized, could make this vision a reality.
But time and revenue were running low. Dr. Wanger and his team had to move quickly.
Building the Platform
After interviewing several RPM companies, Dr. Wanger and Pinellas partnered with Carium, pointing to three features—flexibility, efficiency, and affordability—that helped the group stand out in a noisy vendor market. The technology brought incredible promise, but the challenge of onboarding patients remained. After all, the old adage “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to healthcare technology—especially when that technology depends on patient engagement from a population that’s mostly 65 or older, like it did at Pinellas.
Dr. Wanger and the Pinellas team set ambitious targets for onboarding new patients. But despite the COVID-era restrictions, the five-physician team at Pinellas was busier than ever, tied up with patient care—the work that mattered most. Convincing seniors to download apps on their phones during visits would cut into precious time better spent helping them. Besides, putting together a patient recruitment marketing campaign after clinic wasn’t within any of the team members’ skill sets. All that extra work was a recipe for burnout.
“We’re just five independent physicians. We’re very busy. We do hospital work in addition to our office work,” Dr. Wanger explains. “So I’m not sure any of us really have the wherewithal to spend our weekends putting together marketing campaigns to advertise our new program to patients.”
But Carium could. And once Pinellas gave the greenlight, Carium did. Without any of the clinicians having to think much about it, Carium launched a comprehensive marketing campaign to attract patients to the RPM program. The Pinellas team was equipped with talking points on how to best approach patients about their new capabilities. Fliers were posted across the office. Targeted emails arrived in patient inboxes. And, more quickly than Pinellas expected, patients began signing up for the RPM program.
The group hit their once-ambitious goal for annual patient recruitment seven months ahead of schedule. And they’re still expanding the program today. As of early June, the group has reached 150% of their annual recruitment goal—in less than half the time they expected it would take.
Building Better Outcomes
Dr. Wanger notices three key differences since Pinellas began their RPM journey:
Sick patients are getting healthier
Healthier patients are staying healthier longer
Everyone is more engaged with their care
Before turning to RPM, one patient with chronic illness was dealing with extreme anxiety and frequent hospital admissions following dialysis. Each time he was dialyzed, he began feeling unwell, dizzy, and short of breath. In that state, he’d drive himself to the emergency department.
“When he showed up at the ER, his numbers weren’t really that bad,” Dr. Wanger explains. “But it tended to lead to an admission anyway, because he’s chronically ill.”
The solution? A blood pressure cuff and an oxygen saturation monitor, hooked up to the Carium app. When he began feeling unwell after his next dialysis appointment, the patient simply checked out his devices’ output data and found that his health didn’t warrant an ER visit—his anxiety was the cause.
Building the Future
Between improved patient relationships, better outcomes, recaptured revenue, and smoother workflow, Dr. Wanger is realizing that RPM’s new normal makes the old normal seem out of touch.
He spent years prescribing patients with high blood pressure pills that, in many cases, they ended up taking for the rest of their lives. “That’s usually based on one or two blood pressure measurements,” he says. “That’s not enough.”
Now, thanks to a constant stream of intelligent data, Dr. Wanger can offer tailored advice to individual patients. He spends more time figuring out which habits can help them get off prescription drugs, rather than figuring out why they need to be on them.
Speaking of time, RPM helps Dr. Wanger use his more efficiently. He’s working toward a future when RPM will help him usher in the next generation of care—one where he’s empowered to split his time between hands-on care in the office and data-driven delegation at home.
“This kind of data builds confidence for me and the patient,” Dr. Wanger says. “And I think it’s going to make the healthcare system a lot more efficient.”
Turning the Corner
Months ago, it was unclear how Pinellas would navigate through the worst days of the pandemic. Now, the practice not only has certainty for today, but a future-proof plan for tomorrow.
Where revenue was once dwindling, it’s growing—to the tune of a 43% monthly revenue increase from December 2020 to April 2021. Where patients were disengaging, they’re finding new reasons to be excited about their health, with nearly 97% of patients saying the new experience is a better one. And where physicians were wondering how they’d make it through the next few months, now they have their sights set on long-term success.
For Dr. Wanger, RPM’s arrival is monumental. It represents the technological turnaround that physicians have been waiting for since digital health’s early days.
“We spent the past decade punching more buttons and clicking more boxes and doing more data entry than ever before. The bottom line is that so far, technology has made it more difficult to take care of patients,” he says. “But all of a sudden, it feels like we’re turning a corner. Now we actually have this technology that makes things more, not less, efficient.”
This is the future of healthcare. Learn more about how Carium can be the technology powering your remote patient monitoring program.