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Partnership helps elderly stay home

Monday November 7, 2011
Donna Pierre-Pierre, RN
Donna Pierre-Pierre, RN
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An Oct. 5 press conference announced a joint venture between Virtual Health, a service provider that delivers home-based services including meals, transportation and financial solutions, and SeniorBridge, a leading provider of elder care at home. The service, called Virtual Health, provides health monitoring and lifestyle services for the elderly, allowing them to remain independent at home.

Partnering with SeniorBridge was a natural fit. The agency has 43 offices in 11 states, said Eric Rackow, MD, SeniorBridge's president. "We have about 1,500 caregivers of which two-thirds are RNs," he said. "The other one-third are social workers. The combination allows us to not only provide medical relief but [also] care for the person's overall well-being in a holistic fashion. We had been looking for a way to be more cost-effective in that."

The partnership arose through a mutual connection between Rackow and Alex Go, CEO of Virtual Health. A trial of the service rolled out last November with about 30 patients in New York City and Westchester County. "We chose a small quantity because we were really not trialing the efficacy of the technology," Go said. "We looked more at processes like making sure that everything was documented properly. The trial accomplished that goal."


Eric Rackow, MD
Donna Pierre-Pierre, RN, MPA, director of quality management and clinical operations at SeniorBridge, was involved in the trial, serving as a nurse case manager. "I've been a nurse for 15 years in a variety of settings and I really believe this is a forward-thinking program," she said. The service uses the FDA-cleared Care Innovations Guide platform, which enables providers to remotely monitor patient vital signs, such as blood pressure, weight and glucose, and engage the patient via video-conferencing technology.

"We first meet with the patient to find out the best time [of day] to take measurements," Pierre-Pierre said.

Once determined, Go said the patient's health sessions are conducted either once a week or a few times a week. "The system also checks for pulse oximetry and peak flow meter to test lung capacity," Go said. "If during the health session, a reading is abnormal, we ask the patient to do the readings again. If there is still a problem, the patient goes through his or her nurse case manager, who may then involve the physician."

The system is deployed on a tablet and allows for face-to-face interaction between the senior and the nurse case manager, not just audio and speech, Rackow said. "It's very user friendly. You can sit in your armchair and talk to your care manager," he said. "That's extremely useful because the nurse can see their composure and decide if they seem to be depressed, for example. This can reduce the need for how much in-home time is needed and that will reduce the cost."

An added benefit is seniors have their own personal "health" portal where they or their family can log on to see how they are doing. "They are able to log in like a bank account," Go said. "We felt strongly that any package should have that as part of the program."

Pierre-Pierre believes the service offers several benefits including real-time results that allow the nurse case manager to react quickly if there is a problem, the ability to track and report the patient's progress over the continuum of care and the ability to have face-to-face contact.


Alex Go
"It's a high-tech program, but it's very simple to use, so just about everyone can participate," she said, "from those who are functionally independent to those who aren't. It gives us really important information that we may not get otherwise."

Like in any system rollout, the two companies are employing two tools to measure the quality of the program. "We are using patient engagement, where we look at the percentage of scheduled health sessions and their compliancy and patient satisfaction, where the appliance itself is used to ask a series of questions that are answered via touchscreen," Go said. "Our goal is to make them more aware of their health and want to live healthier lifestyles."

Plans are in the works to expand Virtual Health nationally by the end of the year, with subscription services starting in California, Texas and Florida.

"The whole telehealth industry is untapped," Go said. "The technology is there. However, the issue is putting the processes in place. We collaborated with SeniorBridge because they understand the processes."

The service is private pay. Medicaid does not provide direct reimbursement for the service. Even so, Go hopes in two to three years, with great outcomes, that will change. "It's starting with a private pay component, but eventually insurers will not be able to ignore the value," he said.


Tracey Boyd is a regional reporter. Send letters to editorNY@nurse.com or post a comment below.