SIOUX CITY -- After the Rev. Jerry Cosgrove had his right knee replaced in mid-June, a Mercy Home Care nurse visited him in his home and hooked him up with a high-tech kit that provides 24/7 virtual nursing care.
The 80-year-old, who described himself as "technologically impaired," faithfully took his vitals each morning with the wireless devices included in the Home Care Connect personal health kit and answered questions posed to him about his health as instructed on a tablet in the comfort of his apartment.
Two days after the operation at Dunes Surgical Hospital, Cosgrove noticed additional swelling, bruising and pain in his leg, which concerned him. He reported these symptoms by tapping the tablet with his finger, and within 10 minutes, he was talking to a specially trained Trinity Health At Home registered nurse based at a virtual care center in Michigan. Through a camera built into the tablet, the nurse was able to view Cosgrove's leg.
"She wasn't comfortable with the color of the bruise, so she said, 'We're having someone come out,'" he recalled. "Then, down to outpatients we went."
Cosgrove had an ultrasound at Mercy Medical Center, which didn't reveal any blood clots in his leg. He could return home and relax.
"For me, the main source of success was that it brought me that sense of comfort and relaxation," said Cosgrove, who received three or four more calls from the virtual care center based on his answers to questions or vital measurements during the three weeks that he used Home Care Connect.
Wendy Beavers, customer service representative and account executive for Mercy Home Care, said the home care provider acquired Home Care Connect in April 2017 as an additional tool to help patients better control and manage their health.
"It's a great way to keep track of your patients and give them the tools, the guidance and advice that they need when they need it," she said. "It's kind of like Mercy Home Care is in the home all the time."
Any Medicare patient receiving services through Trinity Health At Home agencies, such as Mercy Home Care, can take advantage of this user-friendly remote monitoring technology, whether they've recently been released from Mercy Medical Center or Dunes Surgical Hospital, received care from a clinic, or are transitioning home after spending time at a skilled nursing facility. Because Home Care Connect is part of Mercy Home Care's care program, patients pay no additional cost to use the technology.
Patients enrolled in the Home Care Connect virtual care program receive a personal health kit with a tablet and wireless devices, including a scale, pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuff. The tablet uses a major wireless internet provider's 4G network, rather than the patient's home internet. Mercy Home Care nurses or therapists train patients and/or caregivers to use the Home Care Connect kit.
Alicia Nyreen, a registered nurse for Mercy Home Care, walks patients through their first call when she sets up the program kit. She said some patients are a little hesitant about using the technology.
"When you first get it out, they're like, 'Oh, it's a tablet. I can't use that,'" she said. "I can have them try blood pressure as many times as they need to get comfortable using it. I always give them our office number and then show them how to use the call button, so anyone can walk them through putting a blood pressure cuff on or the oximeter."
Voice and text instructions guide patients as they self-report health information using the accompanying wireless devices. Information about the patient's blood pressure, weight, oxygen saturation and symptoms streams in real-time to the virtual care center, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an assigned nurse to review. Communicating this information allows patients and their care team to address health changes that, if left undetected, could lead to an ER visit or hospitalization.
"They showed me everything and said, 'You can do it. You can do it,'" said Cosgrove, who promptly received a call from the virtual care center when he one day failed to report his health information by 1 p.m.
Beavers said not many people refuse the Home Care Connect program after learning more about it, and some even ask to keep the kit, which costs $3,500.
She said a patient struggling with a new colostomy bag actually used the tablet to contact a Mercy Home Care nurse. Through the two-way video feature, she said the nurse was able to show the patient how to solve her problem.
"The patient's anxiety level went way down. She didn't end up in the ER," Beavers said. "Now, she's confident. She knows that she can do this."