In-Home Telemedicine Study Launched

Feb 23, 2010 (09:02 AM EST)

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Mayo Clinic, GE Healthcare, and Intel have launched a new initiative to study the care and cost benefits of home-based health monitoring for elderly patients with chronic illnesses.

During the year-long study, 200 high-risk patients over the age of 60 who suffer chronic conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, and lung disease will daily use at-home medical devices to take their vital signs, such as blood pressure, peak air flow, weight, or blood sugar readings.

The medical devices transmit the information to an Intel Health Guide remote patient monitoring system located in the patient's home. Depending on the particular medical device, data is transmitted to the Intel Health Guide system either via wired or wireless connection, such as Bluetooth. Then, the Intel system electronically transmits to Mayo the patient's vital sign data, as well as the patient's answers to several disease-specific questions asked via text or audio by the Intel system.

The Intel Health Guide system features a touchscreen for patients to easily answer the questions, which can be personalized by clinicians based on the individual's particular medical issues, said Ray Askew, Intel Health Guide marketing manager. Those inquiries could include things like asking a patient how many cups of water they've consumed that day or whether the individual is feeling better compared to the prior day.

The data is collected into a central Mayo database. Preset data "thresholds" determine whether a medical reading -- such as weight -- is within a normal range for that patient, said Dr. Gregory Hanson, a principal Mayo researcher in the study and a physician in Mayo's department of primary care internal medicine.

A team of Mayo clinicians, including nurse practitioners, accesses the patient data online for review via a dashboard. Color codes help clinicians recognize which of their patients are experiencing out-of-range vital sign readings.

"The system red-flags problems, "said Hanson. Yellow codes mean a patient hasn't provided data yet for the day, and green means a patient's readings looks within normal range.

If a patient appears to be experiencing an abnormality based on vital sign readings or the answers to the health questions, Mayo clinicians and patients can connect via the Intel Health Guide's videoconferencing capabilities to help determine what sort of medical intervention the patient may need.

Clinicians can observe and communicate with patients through the videoconferencing system. The research study will also explore whether the videoconferencing capabilities "are helpful to the patient, being able to see their provider," Hanson said.

The videoconferencing capabilities allow on-the-fly as well as scheduled video calls, said Askew.

Right now, patients' at-home monitoring data is not being integrated into Mayo's e-medical records systems, however that's a possibility later, said Hanson.

While previous research studies have examined how home-based monitoring can help in the care of patients with specific diseases, such as heart failure, the new Mayo telehealth project will be the first to study the care and cost benefits for a broader population of individuals -- in this case, elderly patients with a variety of chronic conditions.

"We're targeting an older age group, many whom have multiple chronic conditions," Hanson said.

"The fastest growing segment of the population is over age 85," he said. "The goal is for them to live at home as long as possible," he said. The study will examine whether home health monitoring is effective in reducing emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and length of stay hospitalization of these elderly patients through the assistance of remote clinicians who can recognize signs of trouble and provide earlier intervention to prevent issues from worsening.

The study can also help shed a better light on whether the use of telemedicine applications such as at-home health monitoring can help reduce the much larger expenses that are incurred when chronically ill elderly patients suffer medical complications and require hospital care.

The research study also fits into GE Healthcare and Intel's ongoing work announced last year to jointly develop and market technologies for home-based health and chronic disease management. The two companies are investing $250 million over the next five years on these efforts.

Under that partnership, GE markets and sells the Intel Health Guide system in the United States and United Kingdom.