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Telehealth system: Personal care in the age of high tech

July 20, 2010
By KURT HAUGLIE Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - Much of health care is high-tech and can now be done with the touch of a button, and one system in use locally allows nurses with Portage Health Home Care and Hospice to monitor patients over telephone lines.

Jane Casper, performance improvement coordinator and registered nurse with PHHCH, said the company has been using the telehealth system for about five weeks with five patients, and so far it's working well.

Casper said the system involves a monitor, which is connected various devices for checking vital signs such as blood pressure and weight. When patients turn on the device, a voice prompts them to perform various functions by pushing buttons on the front of the monitor.

"They purposely make this as simple as possible," she said.

The information is recorded, then sent by telephone line to the PHHCH office in Hancock, where a nurse sees it on a computer monitor.

Casper said eight years ago, another system was used by PHHCH, which involved the use of a video camera. However, the system was so complicated, it wasn't of much value, mostly because patients had trouble operating it.

"The technology wasn't what it is today," she said.

Also, Casper said, the transmission of the information wasn't reliable.

"Given the phone lines in the area, from the beginning (the system) was problematic," she said.

Most of the five patients using the telehealth system through PHHCH are 80 years old and older, Casper said, and they seem to enjoy using it.

"They love it," she said.

The monitor has few buttons, Casper said, and it asks mostly yes and no questions.

"Most thought they were very easy (to use)," she said.

The monitors are programmed for the specific needs of each patient, Casper said, and their situations are noted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"That way you make sure nobody gets missed," she said.

Registered nurse Melanie Parker said based on her visits with the patients, Casper's assessment of their comfort using the system is accurate. The fact the patients are willing to use the system helps her, too.

"I like it," she said. "So far, (the patients) have been great."

Using the telehealth system was useful in getting one patient to go to her doctor when problems developed with her blood pressure, Parker said.

"Through monitoring her blood pressure daily, we were able to see her blood pressure trending low," she said.

The patient was called and told to go to her doctor as soon as possible, Parker said, and the doctor made a change in the woman's medications.



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