Flagstaff Medical Center in Flagstaff, Ariz., will employ home monitoring devices and smartphones to keep tabs on 50 patients that have been hospitalized with CHF or a related heart condition and are at high risk of readmission. Many of the candidates live on Native American reservations or in other rural areas that may not have landlines, running water, or reliable electricity, according to Gigi Sorenson, the hospital's director of telemedicine. Nor do they have easy access to ongoing care for their chronic diseases.
The Flagstaff program, called Care Beyond Walls and Wires, will provide wireless pulse oximeters, blood-pressure cuffs, and weight scales from Annapolis, Md.-based Zephyr Technology to participants in their homes. Some patients might also receive devices that measure respiration, skin temperature, posture, and physical activity.
All will be given Motorola Droid X smartphones with 3G mobile connectivity on the Verizon network. The phones will be loaded with a mobile application to help patients collect data from the monitoring devices and then upload the readings to the hospital.
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Sorenson told InformationWeek Healthcare that Flagstaff Medical Center enrolled the first participant a week ago. It took that individual 4.5 minutes to download and forward data from his monitors the first time he tried. "Today, it took him one minute," Sorenson said a few days later.
Participants are expected to send readings daily for three to six months following discharge from the hospital. Flagstaff has hired a nurse manager to track the patients and assist them with their care. This will include helping patients stay on prescribed medications and providing fast response if data indicate a decline in someone's health.
The telehealth technology is meant to reduce unnecessary physician visits, a major issue when the patient lives far from the nearest doctor and lacks reliable transportation options. Early intervention also can prevent hospital readmissions, a growing concern since Medicare will stop reimbursing for certain preventable readmissions beginning in October 2012, based on data that hospitals already are reporting.
The hospital will be working with primary care physicians to identify the rest of the 50 patients. Sorenson said that the hospital will be able to export the data it receives from Care Beyond Walls and Wires participants to doctors that have electronic health records.
Qualcomm, through its Wireless Reach program that supports connectivity projects in underserved communities, initiated the project and is providing technical expertise and much of the funding for the yearlong trial. "Qualcomm came to us," Sorensen said.
The NIH, through its Public-Private Partnership Program and its National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is helping Flagstaff Medical Center devise a way to keep the monitoring effort going once the grant money runs out, and likely will assist the hospital in publishing results of the trial. "We are already working on the sustainability model," Sorenson said.
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