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Telemedicine: A healthy connection

Telehealth devices can measure patients’ weight, blood pressure and other key numbers.

Long-distance monitoring allows patients to receive daily care from the comfort of home

When 78-year-old Waynesboro resident Peggy Spinks was ready to be released from the hospital for anemia, she didn’t fret for a second about her post-hospital level of care. That’s because, in some ways, she felt like the nurses would be home with her.

A few years ago, after Spinks had a heart attack, she was concerned about her daily care because she lived alone. But then she was set up with a telehealth device that allowed for daily monitoring. The worries vanished.

“It’s very easy to use, and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that even though I’m here by myself, they’re checking in on me,” she says. “If anything is wrong, I know they’ll contact me right away.”

The telehealth setup from Augusta Health Home Health that Spinks has is a device that attaches to her telephone line, and measures weight, blood pressure and oxygen level. Similar devices for other patients might record additional measurements like blood sugar.

Spinks uses the device and its attachments to send in her readings every morning. If she were to skip it, a nurse would contact her — another comfort for someone who lives alone and struggles with weakness that could make her a fall risk. If anything looks like a possible threat with her readings, that would also trigger a call or visit.

“I’m very happy with this option,” she says. “I feel like someone is keeping track of me, and that’s a great feeling.”

Expanding program

In addition to offering telehealth to chronic heart failure patients like Spinks, the Home Health Department also recommends telehealth for some patients who have COPD and diabetes, according to the department’s director, Doug Jena.

The telehealth program has been in place for more than a decade, but it’s about to start expanding in terms of services and patient reach. Recently, the department put a set of best practices and protocols in place that will allow it to drive even more focus on improving patient outcomes of care, Jena says. The major goal is to increase the safety and reduce the number of re-hospitalizations for these patients.

“For many people with these chronic conditions, they tend to go in and out of the hospital when they experience changes that are a concern,” he says. “That’s frustrating for them, especially if those changes could have been managed at home.”

In addition to refining that focus, telehealth will soon offer more than vital signs measurement, adds Dorothy Shafer of Home Health. Not only will video calls become an option, but patients will also be able to access educational videos that can augment their health efforts.

For example, Shafer notes, someone with COPD can send in data on oxygen levels, and a nurse will be able to see that patient face-to-face through a video call. “That allows us to keep tabs on how well someone is actually breathing,” she says. “A patient might say he’s a little short of breath, but the video connection will let us see his color and how hard he’s working at breathing. That might warrant an immediate visit.”

Better for patients, staff

Right now, about 30 Augusta Health patients use the telehealth service, but Jena anticipates that with the expanded scope, that number will likely be closer to 100 in another year.

The expansion will also be beneficial for the agency’s therapists and nurses, he adds. It will allow them to fit unplanned “visits” through telehealth into the day without having to travel unneccesarily to patients’ homes — a considerable difference at times, considering that some patients live in hard-to-reach areas.

Nurses and therapists also will be able to see patient data through their iPhones, which means they can access measurements and video calls from anywhere, ensuring fast response times.

More patients like Spinks will benefit from in-home care, even when she’s alone.

“I do feel like they’re right here,” she says. “I don’t worry about having to deal with my health issues on my own at home anymore.”

Learn more about the telehealth program. Contact Home Health toll free at (800) 543-4789.