Kaiser Permanente's big bet on remote diabetes monitoring pays off

As hospitals and health systems increasingly look to remotely monitor patients for a variety of chronic conditions, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente is already tracking the diabetes of nearly 40,000 people from the comfort of their homes.

The health system prescribes Bluetooth-enabled, smartphone app-connected glucometers that send data directly to patients' EHRs.

Becker's recently interviewed Sos Mboijana, MD, assistant chief medical information officer and internal medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente in Washington, D.C., about how the program has worked so far and what promises it holds for the larger healthcare system.

Question: When did Kaiser Permanente start offering the remote diabetes program?

Sos Mboijana, MD: Kaiser Permanente offers remote patient monitoring programs for a variety of chronic health needs such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, perinatal care and diabetes. We launched the remote patient monitoring program specifically for diabetes in California in 2017 and have since expanded it to our other service areas. 

Q: How does the program work?

SM: For patients enrolled in this program, we prescribe Bluetooth-enabled glucometers for patients to take home. They then download a free smartphone app that connects to the monitor. The app transmits blood glucose readings in real time directly to the patient's electronic medical record at Kaiser Permanente.

I can see the data and work hand in hand with the rest of the patient's care team to adjust medications, conduct patient follow-up calls to discuss diet and other lifestyle choices, or schedule additional telephone, video or in-person visits to provide additional, customized information to patients. 

What all this enables us as providers and care teams to do for our patients is deliver a better experience, improve engagement and ultimately earn better health outcomes.

Q: What have been the benefits of the program so far?

SM: There is tremendous benefit to both patient and provider being able to have critical health data available at their fingertips. We have nearly 40,000 Kaiser Permanente patients actively using the remote patient monitoring program for diabetes, which means we have a large patient population that we can learn from.

I've heard from my patients who are or have been enrolled in this program that being able to adjust medication in real time or even schedule follow-up visits has been incredibly convenient. I've also heard patients say their health needs are being met quickly and they're able to lead healthier lives because of the program — the more frequently we connect with patients, the better the outcome.

Q: Have there been any challenges or things you'd like to improve upon?

SM: Spreading the word about this program is critical to ensuring more eligible patients engage and use the program. I also think more health systems across the U.S., in time, will adopt these kinds of programs because there is huge upside for patients, providers and the healthcare system overall.

When we can go further upstream and enable patients to not only be advocates for their health but active participants we can improve health outcomes and better manage costly chronic health conditions.

Especially as it relates to diabetes, far too many Americans have unmet care needs. By integrating care management tools into the technology people use every day, such as phones, we can enable patients to more easily control or manage their diabetes care.

Like most advancements in technology, it will simply take time for patients — and providers — to become more comfortable adopting these capabilities. As the technology — such as wearables — becomes easier to use, we're seeing more patients being willing to use it. This is reflective of the larger trends we've seen in virtual care during the pandemic — many patients who were otherwise hesitant to use technology such as video visits were encouraged to try new processes and enjoyed the experience and convenience.

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