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New technology connects patients to hospitals

Nurses in Two Harbors have a new way to keep an eye on patients now, even when their patients are at home.

Thanks to a Verizon Foundation grant, St. Luke’s Home Care now has wireless telemonitors and blood pressure cuffs that allow patients to take their vital signs daily at home and send them to nurses. Stephanie Keppers-Anderson, St. Luke’s Home Care manager, said that telemonitoring had already been used through Lakeview Memorial Hospital, but the technology required patients to have a landline for the program. Now, that’s not necessary.

“It seems to be that patients in their 50s or 60s have a cell phone only,” Keppers-Anderson said.

The telemonitor prompts the patient to take his or her vital signs –weight, blood pressure and oxygen saturation, for example — at the same time every day. The data is then transmitted to the hospital, where they can be recorded and changes noted.

“The hope is that we lay eyes on those patients everyday even if a nurse doesn’t go out to see them,” Keppers-Anderson said. “We’ll notice sudden changes before the patient does.”

Patients often don’t realize that they’re sick until an illness reaches a critical point, she said. Now, nurses can respond more quickly to a decline in a patient’s condition.

Keppers-Anderson said the equipment is used by all sorts of patients, like those who have experienced a serious health event such as congenital heart failure. It can also be helpful for someone who is having a strange reaction to a new medication.

“It can be used with anyone that we’re providing care to,” she said.

The program is especially useful in rural places with aging populations, like Two Harbors, Keppers-Anderson added. Older adults who want to stay in their homes can do so more easily with the telemonitoring, and they don’t need a nurse to visit them as regularly. She said that even when the hospital deems the telemonitoring no longer necessary, many patients opt to continue just for peace of mind.

“I would expect home care to continue using the telemonitoring program,” Keppers-Anderson said. “There are upgrades and changes that make it better.”

She said that St. Luke’s is even considering getting tablets for some patients, so they can video chat with their doctors and nurses from home.

“Through this partnership with Verizon, St. Luke’s Home Care continues to expand its telemonitoring program to reach out to patients in its rural communities with excellent care who might not otherwise have access,” said Dr. Gary Peterson, St. Luke’s vice president of medical affairs.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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