Small town telehealth pilot aims to improve senior wellness

A new telehealth pilot program in New Canaan, Conn. is aiming to improve the health and wellness of its seniors by leveraging mobile technology so they can stay in their homes longer and live healthier lives. Slated to start October 15, the program, according to the New Canaan News, will include 10 seniors between the ages of 70 and 85 who will receive iPads or Acer tablets in order to communicate via teleconferencing with a nurse two to three times per week.

In addition, participants in the program also will receive medical equipment so they can take measurements of their weight and vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate, that will be shared with a nurse. The nurse also will review a list of questions with the patients, such as how they have been feeling and how they have been sleeping.

Seventy-five percent of adults who live in New Canaan are seniors, and 23 percent are 65 year of age or older. With such a large aging population, the town is hoping that the telehealth program will result in less time spent in the hospital or nursing home for its senior residents.

"You want to keep [seniors] out of institutions because, No. 1, they don't want to be in institutions, and No. 2, institutions are very expensive. It's an awesome cost," Jim Lisher, chairman of the Health and Human Services Commission of New Canaan, told the newspaper.

New Canaan, like other towns in America, is faced with the fact that more than half of U.S. healthcare costs are spent on preventable diseases from health risks associated with lifestyle choices such as smoking, obesity and diet. By focusing on changing those behaviors, the telehealth program aims to serve as a preventative measure in the fight against the onset of disease and thereby reduce the rising costs of healthcare.

The growing cost of healthcare continues to be a problem nationwide. Today, U.S. outlays on healthcare are about $569 billion and are projected to increase annually reaching $938 billion by 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation based on data from the Congressional Budget Office. Likewise, Medicare enrollees are expected to grow from 46.7 million Americans in 2012 to 62 million by 2020.

One thing that New Canaan has in its favor is that the town is one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. This affluence is helpful since New Canaan's telehealth program will cost $24,000, all of which was raised privately.

For more information:
- read this New Canaan News article