Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is initially developed to extend services for chronic and vulnerable patients. Chronic pain patients, in particular, have been around for years. The fight to solve the opioid crisis continued even before the COVID-19 pandemic came.
History of opioid crisis
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), opioid misuse started in the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers. Since then, increased prescription of opioid medications by health care providers led to widespread misuse of prescription and non-prescription opioids until it became evident that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.
Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30% in all parts of the U.S. from 2016 through 2017, which led to HHS declaring a public health emergency in 2017. In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids. Efforts to combat crisis from opioid use disorder (OUD) range from improving treatment surveillance to promoting opioid-reversing drugs.
Opioid crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic transformed care delivery for patients with OUD. Since the pandemic began, many healthcare providers began using telemedicine to treat OUD to maintain continuity of care while preventing further exposure from COVID-19. To facilitate further transition to digital health care, the HHS and Drug Enforcement Agency announced temporary changes to the regulation and reimbursement of telemedicine for the duration of the pandemic.
Three Benefits of RPM in Helping Opioid Crisis
While limited studies are available to prove RPM’s effectiveness in the opioid crisis, possible barriers to its widespread use would still be limitations on internet access and cost. HCPs may need assistants due to information overload and work overload. Despite these limitations, RPM, with the help of telemedicine, can be a powerful tool during the COVID-19 pandemic by possibly providing the following benefits:
1. Better pain management
Before initiating therapy, proper pain assessment and treatment goals must be planned and discussed by health care providers or pain specialists. With regular monitoring and checkups, HCPs can develop an effective treatment plan depending on their goals. New advances have been introduced to provide adequate pain management, and even providers can prescribe non-opioid options to prevent opioid misuse.
2. Continued Assessment of Opioid Overdose
According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Along with regular checkups, health care providers can track behavior changes and symptoms related to opioid overdose. Monitoring vital signs such as respiratory rate may also detect opioid-induced respiratory depression, preventing respiratory coma and death.
3. Better prescription of opioid-reversing drugs
Most people with substance disorders never receive treatment. Naloxone is an opioid-reversing medication used to treat opioid overdose, and the number of prescriptions for naloxone doubled from 2017 to 2018. Remote medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to opioid use disorder sufferers has become the norm since the pandemic. Better targetting of overdose-reversing drugs will shine light among patients with addiction and provide support for their families and caregivers. Remote MAT should be further looked into and improved by health care providers and policymakers to aid in its widespread use.
In conclusion, Remote Patient Monitoring is a promising innovation of health care and technology that’s highly dependent on the patient’s willingness to take charge of their health. Solving the opioid crisis needs a more holistic approach that involves effective pain management and drug dispensing, regular counseling, and frequent patient monitoring to assess signs of an opioid overdose. RPM may be a vital tool among HCPs to solve the opioid crisis if proven effective.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/.