Remote Monitoring Saves Travel Costs

May 28, 2024

We’re currently hearing a lot about government cost cutting. Health NZ is not immune apparently. According to this article, Te Whatu Ora has been asked to cut costs.

Does this include travel cost? Is anyone considering ways to minimise unnecessary travel?  

I only ask because Spritely recently ran a workshop with the Data & Digital team at Hawkes Bay Hospital and identified thousands of hours in travel time that could be saved by using remote patient monitoring (RPM) to support recovery and rehabilitation of people in the community.

Thousands of hours saved every year by a single department using RPM at a mid-size hospital. What about all the other departments at all the other hospitals?

Could Te Whatu Ora save millions of travel hours over the next few years by using more remote patient monitoring? Read on…

RPM should augment usual care, not replace it.

Hoki ki te Kāinga (HKTK) is a multi-disciplinary team of community-based health workers. The team provides a six-week wraparound support service for older people who would otherwise struggle to manage at home after leaving hospital.

Without this service, those patients would remain in hospital longer and would be more likely to get readmitted following discharge.

The team comprises nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, physiotherapists, kaiāwhina, and rehabilitation assistants. Patients get around 3 home visits a day and this enables them to recover safely at home, freeing up space at the hospital.

Most visits need to be done in person because they involve things like showering, dressing, meal preparation and locking up at night. However, some visits such as nurse consultations and physiotherapy sessions can be done remotely using Spritely.

With usual care, the average patient is visited 128 times over a 6-week period. Each one of those visits requires approximately 30 minutes of travel.

When usual care is augmented with RPM using the Spritely platform, 52 of those visits can be done remotely, saving 1,560 minutes. That’s 26 hours of travel time saved, per patient.

What’s the cost of travel?

Well, if you’re a $20 billion health budget, then in financial terms it’s probably a rounding error. But travel costs more than just dollars, right? More than just 63.5 cents per kilometre.  

Travel costs time. It costs the health system capacity. Time spent traveling unnecessarily erodes clinical time. Patients suffer and so do our health workers.

You can’t see patients while you’re driving. You can’t catch up on paperwork either. Travel time is extremely unproductive. We’re trying to increase productivity, not reduce it. If you want to increase productivity, then reduce unnecessary travel time with RPM. The magnitude of the savings might surprise you.

Thousands of hours saved.

The HKTK team look after about 260 patients a year. Their travel savings from remote monitoring could be 6,760 hours annually or put another way – just over 3 full time equivalent staff. Imagine using remote monitoring to virtually increase the capacity of your team by 3 frontline staff. Without the need to hire anybody.

Such a move would reduce stress on staff, increase patient capacity and free up more space in hospitals. What’s stopping us?

Returning to the original article, Dr Shane Reti was reported to say, “What Health NZ is doing is finding ways to reduce spending by making day-to-day operational practices as efficient as possible so they can re-invest in the frontline.”

Hopefully this includes doing the math on unnecessary travel costs and working out how much time RPM could save frontline health workers, and how much extra patient capacity this would add without the need to hire more staff. Hopefully…