While telemonitoring is often facilitated through tablets or smartphones using the internet, AT&T (NYSE: T) and remote patient monitoring company Anelto Health are hoping to change the game with their new in-home technology for seniors.
The two-way cellular hub, called HomeAssure, is already being used by at least five home health agencies, creators say. On top of that, it comes as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to expand reimbursement options for remote patient monitoring, a prospect one leader from the telecommunications company described as “exciting.”
“Unfortunately, due to the way our health care system works, until you have an effective reimbursement system to provide the correct incentives, you don’t get technologies like this being adopted at the rate they should be,” Tad Reynes — AT&T’s director of connected health strategy and development — told Home Health Care News.
But all that’s changing: In October, CMS issued a final rule allowing home health agencies to bill Medicare for remote patient monitoring.
Additionally, CMS has announced that Medicare Advantage (MA) plans will be able to offer expanded supplemental benefits in 2020. The new rules give plans permission to cover benefits that “have a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function” of beneficiaries with chronic conditions — which could include telehealth and remote monitoring.
“Now that those reimbursement codes are in place, we expect that [remote monitoring] technology will truly take off the way it should have several years ago,” Reynes said.
Points of difference
HomeAssure differs from other remote monitoring technologies in that it’s specially geared toward seniors, many of whom feel uncomfortable using smartphones and tablets.
About 34% of older internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to do things online, while 48% say they need help using new electronic devices, according to a 2017 report from Pew Research Center.
HomeAssure was designed with those statistics in mind, David Fronk, senior vice president of business development and sales at Anelto Health, told HHCN.
Anelto Health — which provides solutions to help seniors age in place — created and designed the technology, while AT&T provides the cellular connectivity that connects patients with their care teams.
“We felt like it was really important to start from the ground up with three things that were really important,” Fronk said. “It’s very easy to use. It’s very easy to set up — and it’s communication-based.”
Essentially, the cellular hub is a small box that goes in a senior’s home. The device has buttons that allow users to do things like call their care team and listen to messages. It can also work as a phone, allowing caregivers to call seniors directly.
“All you have to do is plug it in,” Fronk said. “Usually, they have an instructive message on there that plays for them and puts them on hold.”
The hub works with vital sign monitors and activity trackers to decipher whether seniors are at risk for a fall or exhibiting any other troubling health characteristics.
For example, if a senior using the device loses several pounds in a short period of time or has low blood oxygen levels, caregivers are sent an alert and can quickly connect with patients through the device.
“The integration of a voice hub in this that allows for two-way communication between the patient and the caregivers — both in terms of emergencies and in day-to-day monitoring — [is unique],” Reynes said.
Anelto has more than 100,000 devices deployed nationally; it does not release statistics for specific products. HomeAssure hubs are currently being used by five large home health agencies, according to Fronk.
One such agency is Health at Home, which provides medical home health and non-medical home care to thousands of clients annually across 13 locations.
Health at Home uses HomeAssure’s remote patient monitoring hub for daily measures such as blood pressure, oxygen level, heart rate and weight, which is then also communicated with its NavCare clinical team.
NavCare, a sister company of Health at Home, is a care management organization that provides patients chronic care management and transitional care management services.
While Health at Home has used other remote monitoring technologies before, Suzanne Rhoden, senior care specialist at Health at Home, told HHCN HomeAssure has been a game changer.
“Anelto’s version is really a step up,” Rhoden said. “It allows the patient to have the interaction with their caregiver and their physician as well. From a NavCare perspective of it, we are that reiteration to get that patient more compliant.”
Health at Home — which has more than 800 caregivers company-wide — began offering the technology to home health clients in April, placing a focus on patients with chronic conditions. It’s a population that accounts for about $8.3 billion in avoidable emergency department visits per year.
“Those costs are just outrageous, so this has really been able to help us keep patients in the home,” Rhoden said.
Remote monitoring’s bright future
While AT&T has had a health care segment for more than 20 years, the company’s interest in home-based care — specifically as it relates to remote monitoring — is more recent.
“It’s been frustrating to us for years that remote patient monitoring has not been more widely adopted,” Reynes said. “Everybody wants to have the comforts of home around them rather than the sterile environment of a hospital, so if you can do that while being looked after simultaneous [via remote monitoring] … then you get the best of both worlds.”
With recent efforts from CMS to provide reimbursement options for remote monitoring, Reynes predicts more adoption of the technology — and more innovation in the space.
“We think the future is incredibly bright,” Reynes said. “We see a ton of potential here.”