Heart Alert soars with telemedicine program

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

ATLANTA, Ga. and OAK PARK Mich. - A combination of technology and homecare has created a partnership dedicated to improving outcomes for patients with chronic illness.
A Nurse instructs a patient how to use a remote monitoring blood pressure cuff as part of the VNA of Southeast Michigan’s telehomecare program.

Atlanta-based disease management provider Heart Alert was approached in 2002 by the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Michigan to develop a TeleHomecare program for heart failure patients using the company’s data transmitting system.

The success of that venture has burgeoned into a growing homecare business for Heart Alert with the launch in May of a diabetes program and the development of a chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder program.

Heart Alert places electronic devices in patient’s homes that gather data about the patients’ conditions and automatically sends the data over standard phone lines. The test results are then made available on a secure Web site for review by nurses and physicians. For further ease, results that fall outside a patient’s individual parameters are red-flagged in the system.

It’s the simplicity of Heart Alert’s program that makes it attractive to a variety of organizations, said Rick Fleeharty, Heart Alert’s vice president of marketing. The company provides all the equipment, including delivery, pick-up and repair or replacement; patient-specific software; and access to its Web site to view test results.

Provider partners are not required to sign contracts for the program, and fees are based on the number of patients enrolled in the program and are billed on a monthly basis. The VNA would not disclose the cost of its program.

“We rent the equipment based on our patient caseload,” said VNA spokesperson Alexandra Hichel. “It helps us be more cost efficient so we are not sitting on inventory we are not using and so we are not stuck with technology that is outdated a few years from now.”

So far, the program has shown positive results. During the heart failure trial in Michigan, only one patient was readmitted to the hospital for heart failure, and that success has flourished into a growing homecare business for Heart Alert. The company has recently entered partnerships with a variety of homecare agencies and hospitals and also has submitted a bid to join a CMS disease management trial.

“Our homecare activity level has increased a thousand fold,” said Fleeharty.

Along with evaluating patient test results, VNA’s telehomecare program also emphasizes patient education. By having patients complete their own tests, they learn the importance of the information and what conditions signal a need for care, said TeleHomecare Manager Michelle Harper.

“It’s not enough just to get a patients blood sugar down,” she said. “What you have to do is teach them how to be independent and living with this disease. We need to maximize the instruction they have been given on how to care for themselves and improve their quality of life.”

In its heart failure program, Heart Alert and the VNA use weight scales and blood pressure cuffs connected to phone lines to gather patient data. Glucometers are employed for the diabetes trial, which started in May covering 50 people with diabetes as their primary diagnosis. Heart Alert hopes to get its COPD program off the ground once technology is found that is easy-to-use and is compatible with the company’s system.