Telehealth machines monitor patients’ health

ROCHESTER — Maria Muñiz calls her telehealth machine "Louie."

Maybe her new wireless telehealth machine will be Louie Jr.

During an Aug. 16 interview at her Lake Tower Apartments, Muñiz chuckled when she talked about choosing the name of the machine, which monitors her blood pressure and diabetes. She is a New York City native who received the wireless version from Visiting Nurse Service (VNS) as part of a half-million-dollar grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation (GRHF).

Every day, Muñiz takes her blood pressure and blood sugar reading and answers a series of questions prompted by the machine. The readings are sent electronically to VNS and staff members there monitor the machine, call in prescription refills if needed or contacts her doctor if necessary, explained Greg Rohrs a licensed practical nurse who also serves as a liaison for patients and installs the telehealth machines.

He began installing the new wireless machines, made possible through the GRHF grant, at the end of August. Muñiz was one of the patients who received a replacement. She signed on for the telehealth program more than a year ago after being hospitalized for high blood pressure, noted Rohrs, who met Muñiz while she was in the hospital.

"I hate going to the hospital," she said. "With this machine, I don’t have to worry about it. I like it a lot. … And my pressure has been good."

VNS’ telehealth program began in 2005 with a pilot program of 20 families and has since grown to 100 patients, explained Ann Duckett, VNS’ manager of marketing and communications. With the health foundation’s grant, VNS will expand the machines to serve 1,500 patients, she added

And by partnering with the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center and Finger Lakes Visiting Nurse Service, VNS is expanding its reach into urban and rural populations, Duckett said. The machines are equipped with a blood pressure cuff, a blood glucose meter, a pulse oximeter and a weight scale.

The target population will not be the homebound necessarily as has been the case, she added, but patients with such chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"This (program) empowers this group of folks by providing information on how to stay on top of conditions and go with questions to the doctor’s office," Duckett noted. "Without the Greater Rochester Health Foundation allowing us to do this, we would know there are folks out there whose lives we can touch in a positive way but might not be able to get to."

The benefits of telehealth programs are numerous, including early detection of complications, fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and improvement in patients’ self-management of their conditions, particularly in cardiac-related cases, according to information from the Cleveland Clinic, which named such telehealth monitoring one of the "Top 10 Medical Innovations of 2011." (www.clevelandclinic.org/innovations/summit/topten11/six.html)

"There are many good heart failure medications," according to an article on the clinic’s website. "What’s been missing, however, has been the critical information to help physicians adjust the medication when necessary to keep the patient healthy and out of the hospital. But this is all starting to change, thanks to wireless health care and a variety of technology-based remote patient monitoring devices that are now playing a major role in heart failure management."

The anticipated reductions in emergency room visits and hospital admissions from VNS’ telehealth expansion could reduce local health-care costs by $3 million, according to information from the health foundation. The grant focused on health-care delivery, and VNS provided information that its patients are half as likely to go to the hospital than those not enrolled, John Urban, the foundation’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Additionally, the telehealth program better equips the patient and the health-care provider to reach treatment goals, added Dr. Bridgette Wiefling, chief executive officer of Anthony L. Jordan Health Center.

"We’re delighted to put this unique tool into the health-care industry’s proverbial black bag," Wiefling remarked. "It’s the 21st-century equivalent of the doctor’s house call returning to our community."

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