As we mark American Heart Month this February, a combination of virtual care and monitoring technology enables CHF patients to stay connected to care in the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Home is where the heart is – it’s also the place we usually feel most comfortable, which can be a boon to the healing process. And being at home instead of the hospital reduces the risk of infections and dramatically reduces cost.
Linking Home and Hospital
At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a team of physicians has been working with remote patient monitoring and telehealth to help CHF patients heal at home and prevent ER visits and hospital readmissions.
Patients’ smartphones, laptops, and even landlines become the eyes and ears of their care team. When connected wirelessly to scales and blood pressure cuffs, for example, the devices can transmit vital signs back to the hospital, where they can be analyzed and interpreted.
If data received indicates a problem, the patient is contacted via phone or video call and given instructions to perhaps amend their medication or pay closer attention to their diet or make an appointment to see their doctor. Small issues can often be treated before they can trigger a hospital admission.
Empowering Patients with Information and Guidance
The initiative has also helped CHF patients better understand their condition and learn how to effectively care for themselves at home, according to Kimberly Armahizer, clinical supervisor for innovative homecare solutions at UPMC.
“The programs are for 60 or 90 days, and afterward, patients are more aware of their symptoms and can better assess themselves daily.”
A program piloted at two Kaiser Permanente locations in California experimented with a telemonitoring program for their CHF patients that provided in-home training in the use of a device that measures weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood glucose for those patients who are also diabetic.
Via modem, patients transmit daily readings to a call center monitored by nurse case managers. Software sorts and ranks the data, allowing nurses to see at a glance who most urgently needs contact. Careful daily monitoring helps patients stay on track with their care plan and learn more about which symptoms need immediate attention.
Philip Madvig, MD, Associate Medical Director of The Permanente Medical Group in Oakland, California, reports that their remote monitoring program has cut the rate of hospitalization and readmission for CHF patients to about a third of the average rate system-wide. “This was not a controlled experiment, the patients weren’t randomized, but there is nothing else to explain this dramatic change,” says Madvig.
Remote Monitoring Provides Reassurance
Recently discharged CHF patients have plenty to process and integrate into their new home routine. Being connected daily with their doctor’s office can reduce their anxiety and give them confidence, knowing a qualified medical professional regularly sees their vitals.