Marie Kenley has congestive heart failure and is a patient in IU Health’s Virtual Complex Care program. Each day, she uses technology to send her blood pressure, weight, heart rate and oxygen saturation back to a team of nurses who monitor the data – and are there for anything Kenley might need.
Technology is Margaret Marie Kenley’s gig. She is an avid “Facebooker,” keeping up with the goings on of her friends and family spread throughout the country – including six grandkids and 14 great grandkids.
When she wants to crochet something different, Kenley turns to her tablet. There was the time she found a picture of cactus gardens and recreated the tiny plants out of yarn.
And each morning when it’s time for Kenley to have her mini medical checkup? She turns to technology again.
She sits on her bed and places the blood pressure cuff on her arm – 115/65, the machine reads. She steps on the scale. She checks her heart rate and oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter.
It’s all recorded, as part of IU Health’s Virtual Complex Care program, through home health telemonitoring. A small router then transfers Kenley’s data back in real time to a team of virtual nurses.
If there is anything unusual, or out of the normal paramenters, a nurse will contact Kenley, who has congestive heart failure. If Kenley needs a nurse at any time, she can call and they will talk her through chest tightness or dizziness.
Last week, Kenley got to meet one of her favorite virtual nurses, Jodi Ralston, who came to her home for a special visit.
“To me, they are another member of the family,” says Kenley, 93, whose husband of 72 years died two years ago.
She smiles and gives Ralston a hug. “I’m so glad I finally got to meet you.”
Ralston is a telehealth nurse, overseeing IU Health’s team of virtual nurses, three RNs and two LPNs. It’s Ralston and her team’s job to monitor the data that is coming in from those patients’ homes.
After Kenley checks her readings each day, the machine asks her some questions and gives her a reminder.
Have you been having any chest pain? Do you need your clinician to contact you today? Please remember to take your medication as prescribed by your physician and maintain a proper diet.
Kenley answers by pushing a yes or no button on the machine.
Before the telehealth monitoring, Kenley, who has a pacemaker, would make trips to her doctor or the emergency room. She says the telemonitoring has cut those visits by 50 percent.
“You feel comfortable talking to them and they don’t only ask you how you feel but they go into detail,” says Kenley, who worked 25 years at Hawthorne Community Center, 13 as director.
If she has a dizzy spell, the nurses will advise her to sit down. When she’s feeling better, they will tell her to drink a glass of water, she says.
“You have a feeling of being a human and not just something on paper,” says Kenley.
The telehealth team also looks for things out of the ordinary, beyond the medical testing results.
“We know her trends. She is very consistent at testing,” says Ralston. “If we, all of a sudden, would not receive her readings that prompts us to call her.”
If they don’t reach Kenley, they will call her emergency contact. The team also makes calls to patients’ doctors and, if needed, will send out an ambulance.
“We do all of those extra steps just to make sure,” Ralston says.
Kenley’s daughter, Diane Arnold, says she likes, too, that all of her mother’s doctors receive the data, as well. Kenley’s results are sent to all of them – so her heart doctor and primary care physician are on the same page.
More than anything, though, the monitoring gives Arnold and her two sisters peace of mind.
“We really have that comfort,” says Arnold. “To know there are eyes and ears watching her, it gives us a lot of comfort.”
That is exactly what the program is meant to do, says Peter Kamwendo, program manager for IU Health’s Virtual Complex Care.
“This technology allows us to come into the home daily,” he says.
It also allows the medical team to catch things early, reducing healthcare costs and doctor’s visits.
“And in the end,” Kamwendo says, “this keeps patients healthier, which is always the goal.”
— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.