Telehealth network engages diabetes patients where they live
By Matt Westerfield
A decade ago, the University of Mississippi Medical Center began its first experiment in remote patient monitoring with the Telemergency pilot project, launched in October 2003.
Over the years, that initial effort has mushroomed into a network of partnerships at hospitals and clinics across the state, where UMMC offers a growing spectrum of telehealth specialties ranging from psychiatry to cardiology, radiology and stroke.
Now, thanks to a new partnership with Gov. Phil Bryant, North Sunflower Medical Center and key corporate sponsors, that concept will be taken one step further by putting telehealth services directly in the patient’s home in the form of Internet-capable tablets equipped with the Care Innovations Guide platform.
The Diabetes Telehealth Network will begin recruiting patients in the Mississippi Delta this spring for an 18-month remote-care management program aimed at making patients active participants in managing their chronic disease.
It’s a concept that has shown promise in other parts of the country, said Dr. Kristi Henderson, director of telehealth and chief advanced practice officer.
“Because type 2 diabetes is one of the biggest chronic-disease challenges in Mississippi, we knew we wanted to focus on that,” Henderson said. “And GE has the technology to bring care into the patient’s home and let the patient be an engaged partner in their health.
“This program can help improve care coordination and strengthen connections between clinicians and patients, and will serve as a proof of concept as we look to expand this model geographically and to other diseases.
“Sunflower County has been a pioneer with us for telehealth and often is one of our primary sites in starting up new specialties.”
The governor announced the project at a Jan. 23 press conference at UMMC.
Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs; Dr. Claude Brunson, senior advisor to the vice chancellor; Gov. Phil Bryant; and Tony Holland, GE Healthcare general manager for the Gulf Coast Region.
“This revolutionary telehealth effort will deliver top-notch medical care to patients in one of Mississippi’s most medically underserved areas, providing a new lifeline for health and disease management,” Bryant said. “Innovations like this also spur further growth and economic benefit in the medical industry.”
In 2010, 12.1 percent of adults in the Mississippi Delta, among the more underserved and impoverished regions in the nation, reported being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and 293 died from complications related to the disease. In 2012, diabetic medical expenses in Mississippi totaled $2.74 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The project will recruit up to 200 patients in Sunflower County, who will use Care Innovations technology to share health data, such as weight, blood pressure and glucose levels, daily with clinicians.
The daily information provided by patients will give health-care providers a much more complete view of a patient’s health status, Henderson said. With that data, clinicians easily can adjust medical care and schedule phone calls or video chats with patients as necessary.
By using tablets with mobile broadband access, patients will have UMMC resources and expertise without having to travel to Jackson.
“We’ll know if they’re having side-effects to their medicine,” Henderson said. “We’ll know if they have questions about their disease or how to eat healthy. We’re going to pull in the pharmacist, the dietitian, the endocrinologist, the ophthalmologist – all of these people are resourced through the tablet.
“We will be able to provide interactive video consults, deliver patient education and engage with the patient daily to meet their needs. Until now, this type of coordinated care that engages the patient in their home setting was simply not an option.”
With a telehealth relationship already in place at North Sunflower Medical Center, Henderson said the project came together with the technological and telecommunications resource support of Bryant’s office and the corporate partners.
“North Sunflower Medical Center is excited and pleased to have been chosen for the opportunity to partner with the Governor’s Office, C Spire, GE, Care Innovations and UMMC on the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Pilot Project,” said Billy Marlow, NSMC executive director. “We wholeheartedly support the use of the latest technology in aiding our patient-centered, team approach to controlling diabetes in the Mississippi Delta.”
“Extending world-class care into the home for people in rural Mississippi and beyond who daily deal with the challenges of diabetes and other chronic conditions is a goal that clinicians, policy-makers, industry and patients can all rally behind,” said Marcelo Mosci, president and CEO of GE Healthcare, U.S. and Canada.
Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs, said the project is a perfect extension of the Medical Center’s core goals as the state’s only academic medical center.
“We have the traditional goals of research, patient care and education, but our No. 1 mission is to improve the health of Mississippians,” Keeton said. “And this is an example of doing that.”