How Essen Health Care uses remote patient management to aid vulnerable communities

Essen teamed up with Verustat to monitor patients in their homes. Essen’s founder calls the partnership a “game changer.”

Sumir Sahgal speaks excitedly about the ways remote patient management can improve healthcare.

Sahgal is the founder and chief medical officer of Essen Health Care, which serves more than 100,000 patients in New York. The vast majority of Essen’s patients are members of vulnerable and underserved neighborhoods and rely on Medicare and Medicaid.

Essen has teamed with Verustat, a Nashville-based company, to track patients remotely. Sahgal described the remote patient management system as “a game changer.”

“You have our team watching you,” Sahgal said in a phone interview. “It engages the patients and allows practitioners to do a much better job, to improve the quality of care and lower the cost.”

More healthcare organizations are turning to remote patient monitoring systems.

Earlier this year, Research and Markets projected the remote patient monitoring market, which was $20 billion in 2019, would grow to $85 billion by 2026. Health systems are tracking patients remotely in a variety of ways. Last month, a study showed Penn Medicine’s use of a text messaging system to keep tabs on COVID-19 patients saved lives.

Essen’s patients have monitoring devices at home in items such as blood pressure cuffs or pulse oximeters. The monitors send the readings to Verustat’s care coordinators, who will call the patient if there are readings that warrant attention. Care coordinators will also touch base with patients if they see they haven’t checked their blood pressure, for example, to make sure they are OK.

The patient data is also sent to Essen at the same time, where doctors can monitor the readings and see if there are any signs of trouble.

Essen partnered with Verustat earlier this year and so far, the healthcare provider has set up nearly 500 remote patient monitoring units. Sahgal said patients have offered encouraging feedback.

About 5% of the remote readings have required calls from care coordinators, Sahgal said in late November. Of that number, 12% required a clinical intervention.

In some cases, patients with high blood pressure were put on different medications, . In some cases, Essen found patients were having issues because of the combination of prescriptions with other drugs they were taking.

“Many are on multiple medications,” he said. “As you change one, it has an effect on the other. Now we have a deeper, broader view on what’s happening at home.”

The devices are given to patients with serious illnesses and chronic conditions who would benefit from more monitoring. Saghal said it's not necessary to use such devices on people who are healthy.

The expansion of remote patient monitoring is another tool to address health equity, Sahgal said.

“It is a vital part to expand access to underserved communities. These are people who are costliest, the sickest and need help the most,” Sahgal said.

“Health care is changing. We need to be more proactive. We need to create access to patient care,” Sahgal said.

While hospitals offer acute care, Sahgal said, “We need to transition to preventive care in the community.”

The remote patient monitoring system allows patients to feel empowered. It also aids patients, particularly older patients who don’t see as well or may occasionally forget to get their readings.

“We need to innovate,” he said. “We need to engage patients. We have to create a win-win situation for everyone: Patients, practitioners and health care situations. This is just one step toward that.”

Verustat said its system allows for better patient care and the chance to reduce healthcare costs for providers. The system is compliant with federal laws to protect patient privacy, the company said.

"Verustat enables practitioners to close the circle of care with their patients, by letting them be proactive – rather than reactive – when monitoring their healthcare," Verustat CEO Rich Roberts said in a news release. "We're very excited that our hi-tech solution and dedicated care coordinators will help Essen deepen patient engagement and provide their patients with state-of-the-art quality care."

Sahgal said the remote patient monitoring allows healthcare providers to avoid sending a nurse to home-bound patients simply to check vital signs.

He also said it offers doctors the opportunity to get information about patients they can’t get in a quick office visit.

“It’s not a snapshot of their health,” Sahgal said of the office visit. “You need to get a bigger picture of their life outside the office. That's why it’s a game changer. Now we can know how they are in the patients’ homes.”