Profs test digital home health care program

Jake Kapsner

Professors at the University began a test program Thursday using digital communication technologies such as the Internet and video conferencing to deliver home health care in urban and rural Minnesota.
“The idea of the program is to deliver home health care more efficiently and effectively than is currently done,” said Stanley Finkelstein, a principle investigator for the University-directed program.
The University Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and other partner groups matched a grant for $625,000, giving the 27-month program a budget of $1.25 million. The University’s allotment was one of 46 grants totalling $18.5 million selected from 750 proposals by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The program, called TeleHome Care, attempts to bring more timely care with less frequent visits to patients with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and wound ailments, Finkelstein said.
Patients in the Twin Cities, as well as the cities of Wadena, Crosby and Staples, will participate in the program.
While the University has used telecommunications in conjunction with medical programs before, this program is the first to couple telemedicine with home monitoring of patients, Finkelstein said.
“It’s an experiment in which some patients will receive normal care, some will have Internet terminals provided, and some will have video conferencing,” explained Stuart Speedie, a project leader and University professor.
Part of the project’s goal is to test the advanced technology that has only recently become cost effective, such as video monitors that use telephone lines to connect patients with health care providers, he said.
“If someone has a wound, they can hold it up to a camera and let a nurse look at it,” said Brian Milavitz, a project director from Fairview Health Systems, the program’s urban partner.
Web pages with password protection will offer patients personalized educational information, and some people will have an e-mail exchange with nurses, Milavitz said.
Testing whether the electronic dialogue can provide better, cheaper care than traditional home visits won’t mean an end to home visits, Milavitz said.
Instead, the process could tailor visits to more closely match a patient’s needs while easing a nurse’s schedule, he said.
But with a predominately elderly home health care clientele, one challenge will be making the technology user-friendly and easy to use, he said.
Program administrators have high hopes for the program that will serve 120 people in its experimental first year.
“We see (the program) as being able to spread from those who really need home health care to those who find it convenient,” Speedie said.