HOUSTON – For the past decade, hospitals have used technology to connect doctors in major medical centers with patients at remote, rural offices.
Now, a new trend is taking telemedicine one step beyond, putting technology directly in the hands of house-bound, often elderly patients.
Richard Kaiser lives in a rural area, more than an hour away from his cardiologist.
"You know, you could be sitting there healthy as a bear, with heart trouble, and five minutes later have a heart attack," Kaiser said.
Two heart attacks, a stroke and two surgeries require Kaiser's doctors to keep a close eye on his health. But this 83-year-old doesn't like to leave home, or his wife, Betty, as she fights cancer.
It's one reason Kaiser is taking part in a study assessing the health benefits of home monitoring. He was shipped a tablet, a Bluetooth-connected scale and other wireless devices to measure his oxygen levels and blood pressure.
In real time, a nurse based in a call center checks for changes; Weight gain or increased blood pressure might signal a red flag.
History of telemedicine
Telemedicine began in the 1950s when hospitals and universities attempted to use telephones to share information and images.
Benefits of telemedicine
"The program really does help the patient to understand how to take care of themselves in the comfort of their home, independently," Linda Somma, a remote monitoring nurse who's part of Kaiser's study, said.
Elderly patients participating in the study report the technology gives them better access to experts. Kaiser had one hospitalization and two emergency visits in the six months before he started the monitoring. Since then, he's had none.
"You don't have to be chasing to the doctor cause the nurses are monitoring it every day," Kaiser said.
Telemedicine has been used to connect doctors and patients that were at different locations. It's also been especially useful for rural or hard to reach populations where a specialist isn't available.
Now doctors can use telemedicine for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a range of other clinical services.
A study was conducted evaluating telemedicine intervention in chronic disease management in the elderly population. During the study, 1,100 patients received care and were monitored by their health care providers remotely with the use of a tablet, Bluetooth connected scales and other wireless devices.
Evidence from the study suggests telemedicine was able to reduce unplanned hospital and emergency room visits.
The study also suggests seniors had a 94 percent engagement rate and that 96 percent would recommend telemedicine to a family or friend.