Telehealth empowers in-home nurses, patients

Telehealth is becoming an essential tool for empowering nurses out in the field as they care for their patients, according to Visiting Nurse Services of New York telehealth program manager Alice Rainford-Miller.

At VNSNY, more than 130,000 patients went into home care in the last year, and many of those patients used telehealth systems to monitor their care, Rainford-Miller, a registered nurse, said at the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange's annual fall conference in Reston, Virginia, on Wednesday.

Through telehealth, nurses at VNSNY are able to look at trends, monitor alerts and share that information with nurses out in homes taking care of patients, Rainford-Miller said.

"Being able to get that real-time information is very useful for patients because we're pulling in all the care providers--the nurses inside the institution [and] out in the field--and we're communicating the information [with everyone]," she said.  

She added that telehealth doesn't replace home care for their patients, but is a way to further assist the nurses and help them make care decisions. They can use telehealth to find out if an in-home visit is needed or if a phone call would be the best route.

"In general this empowers our staff members for making timely interventions and managing patients who have chronic illnesses like congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension and COPD," Rainford-Miller said.

Telehealth will only grow in use in years to come. Spurred by drastic growth in "telehome" technology adoption, the global telemedicine tools market will likely reach $43.4 billion within five years, according to a new report published by Wellesley, Massachusetts-based BCC Research.

Rainford-Miller also said there has been an encouraging shift in the data that physicians are willing to see. At first, she said, physicians would say the information coming in was too much; however, now if nurses send physicians useful, trended information they obtain through telehealth appointments, the physicians want to see that data.

In addition, the telehealth data is allowing VNSNY to come up with new programs, such as a new fluid management program that allows nurses to tightly manage patients' fluid balance at home and forgo hospital admissions or trips to the emergency room, she said. 

Other hospitals also are embracing the technology. Banner Health in Phoenix has been building its telemedicine program for more than 10 years and has one more site left before its telemedicine program is available systemwide. And more than 100 communities in 42 states will receive grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration to support care in rural areas, including funding to grow resources for telehealth solutions.

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