03/19/04 — 3HC home health monitoring system

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3HC home health monitoring system

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 19, 2004 2:03 PM

A new system is now available that will allow people with certain medical conditions to monitor themselves at home.

Home Health and Hospice became affiliated with HomMed nearly six months ago and has purchased 27 of the portable units for use in Wayne, Lenoir and Johnston counties.

Recipients are chosen through referrals from doctors and nurses. The unit is set up in the person's home. It is tailored to the person's condition and programmed from 40 preset questions.

Beverly Withrow, president of 3HC, said it can be used for an array of situations, ranging from heart or lung problems, diabetes, neurological problems, psychiatric disorders, pregnancy or to monitor medication.

For most people, vitals such as temperature and blood pressure are taken in the morning. The unit is user-friendly, said Nicole Summerlin, pharmacist service technician. It is also so precise that if the person does not respond, the monitor will continue every 10 minutes for an hour, then will alert the central operator to a possible problem.

"I have called and had someone go out there," said Anne Crawford, a registered nurse, who monitors the computer for all incoming information. She also sends a weekly report to each patient's doctor.

The unit provides a series of prompts on what the person needs to do.

"Sit down," the voice on the machine might say. "Put the blood pressure cuff on."

A series of questions is also given, depending on the person's condition.

"Are your ankles swollen? Are you short of breath? Are you more tired even after having slept?"

Responses go by satellite to the central computer, where the information is monitored. Any "yes" answers will evoke a response from the nurse on call.

In addition to the main unit, a number of attachments are available, such as a digital camera in the case of serious wounds. There is also a provision for those who need a reminder of when to take medication, particularly those with dementia.

"The pill box is attached," said Ms. Withrow. "A voice recording tells them it's time and tells them to go to the box. If they go to the wrong box, it will say, 'Put the pill back; it's the wrong one. Go to box two.'"

It takes about three minutes to go through the prompts, she said. Most patients check themselves once a day, although some may use it up to four times a day. It is typically in a home for 60 days.

The cost for the basic unit is $7,600, but it can be leased for $150 a month. Ms. Withrow said that for the time being, 3HC is absorbing the cost for the units.

"We're providing this as a service to the community," she said. "We don't get any reimbursement at all, and no insurance company yet covers 'telehealth.'"

She said the hope is that Medicaid will eventually pick up the tab since the system can be a form of preventive medicine and will be instrumental in preventing hospitalization.

"We decided to spend the money, because it will provide much better care," she said.

Ms. Withrow said she is also considering other uses for the HomMed system. One possibility is to purchase a kiosk and put it in an assisted-living home. Residents would have their information programmed into the system and could monitor themselves daily.

Another use could be in industry, where money might not be budgeted for a staff nurse.

Ms. Withrow said that 28 counties in North Carolina are using the system and she expects the need for them will only increase. The nursing shortage is also a concern, with the average age of nurses now at 40, she said.

"As it gets worse, we have to think of ways we can take care of patients in their homes, hands-on," she said.

"The future of home health care is going to be electronic, and telehealth is a way for patients to be able to maintain their care at home."