Other Providers Try Telehealth
West Lebanon — Hospitals aren’t the only health care providers in the region using telehealth technology.
The Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire has used home monitors for dozens of patients it serves.
The West Lebanon-based organization cares for 6,000 patients a year and covers a territory that extends over 4,000 square miles on both sides of the Connecticut River.
With such a large coverage area, it would be impossible for the organization’s 136 field staff members to visit each patient daily. That’s where home monitors have come in handy, said Sheila Aubin, vice president of clinical operations at the VNA.
The devices are about the size of an alarm clock and can be set on a bedside table. They have a probe that can go over the finger for measuring a pulse, an armband for blood pressure and a broadband connection to relay the information back to nurses at the VNA.
Knowing when a patient’s blood pressure is going up, for example, allows the VNA to send its nurses to patients as they experience problems, not after the fact during scheduled visits.
“One of the thoughts was that it would make sure we were actually seeing the patients at the right time,” she said. “This allows us to know whether something is wrong and get a nurse out to the patient right away.”
Not every foray into telehealth has been so successful, however.
Last summer, the VNA tested out a new robot that could be used in patients’ homes. The sleek 4-foot-tall robots, made by Nashua-based VGo Communications, looked like a high-tech parking meter designed by Apple. The white machines rolled on wheels and could be controlled remotely by a nurse or doctor. Outfitted with a high-definition screen, doctors could use the robot to examine a patient’s wound or chat face-to-face with a person, similar to what Albert does with his patients.
The VNA tried the VGo robots in about 10 homes. The experiment failed. The robots were difficult to maneuver around home furniture and on slanted wooden floors, VNA officials said. They also required a high-speed Internet connection, which many of the patients in outlying rural areas don’t have. Some patients don’t even have a telephone line.
“Working with an elderly population in a rural area, they didn’t have the capability,” Aubin said.
It is those kinds of considerations that providers need to take into account before investing in equipment, said Sarah Pletcher, medical director for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Office of Telehealth. There are a lot of impressive machines out there, but she said she’s tried to be practical in deciding what the hospital will use.
“In general, I’m looking at everything and thinking, ‘OK. That’s great. That’s a really fancy machine, that’s a nice gadget, but is it going to work in a rural Upper Connecticut Valley hospital?” she asked.
Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.