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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Telehealth the future of home health care


When the 68-year-old woman first became a telehealth patient, her blood pressure readings were normal. Over time, however, they started to trend upward.

Fortunately, the patient’s FirstHealth Home Care nurse quickly detected the change in her condition, contacted her doctor and arranged a change to her medication that didn’t involve a trip to the doctor’s office or to the hospital.

Often heralded as the wave of the future for home health care, the closely monitored technology of telehealth helps chronically ill patients stay at home, where they want to be, and out of the hospital. Using simple, easy-to-understand computer technology, these patients or their caregivers transmit specific health information over a home telephone line to a centralized monitoring station where it is read by a Home Care professional.

Changes to a patient’s condition are noted, and appropriate follow-up is scheduled.

An important goal of home health care involves reducing hospital admissions and emergency room visits. During its five-year history, FirstHealth’s telehealth service has done that while benefiting more than 3,000 patients in Moore, Montgomery, Richmond, Scotland, Lee and Hoke counties.

“When we first started imagining the possible benefits of telehealth monitoring for home care, we had no idea that we would be making a difference for so many patients,” says Patty Upham, director of FirstHealth Home Care Services.

Telehealth monitoring not only enables the Home Care staff to stay closely connected to patients who are in their homes, but it also helps patients understand how to better manage their own health.

“As patients or caregivers send us the information each day, they begin to recognize how simple actions make a difference in their health,” Upham says. “They make the connection between the country ham biscuit they ate for breakfast and their elevated blood pressure. One of the unexpected advantages of telehealth is the educational opportunity it provides for our patients and their families.”

FirstHealth’s telehealth service uses equipment provided by ViTel Net of McLean, Va.

For more information on FirstHealth Home Care or its telehealth program, call (800) 213-3284.

  Grant expands treatment  
Grant expands treatment

A three-year, $750,000 Telehealth Network Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will enable FirstHealth’s telehealth monitoring service to reach more patients than ever.

The DHHS funding will allow the program to add at least 50 monitoring units and support the addition of three employees to the telehealth staff: a coordinator, a community liaison and a technician

“To optimize this service, we are networking with the FirstHealth emergency departments and Family Care Centers, area health departments and the Moore Free Care Clinic,” says Patty Upham, director of FirstHealth Home Care Services. “When we work as a team, our patients score. It’s a winning combination.”

Grant explands treatment

Foundation support FirstHealth’s telehealth service began with a pilot program funded by the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation. The pilot worked so well that FirstHealth and the Foundation then partnered to buy 18 telehealth units and four digital camera kits to be used for wound assessment.

In the summer of 2006, a $250,000 grant awarded through The Duke Endowment allowed FirstHealth to acquire 70 additional monitoring units and four more high-resolution digital cameras. Funds also helped with the employment of a full-time telehealth nurse coordinator to manage the program.

According to Kathleen Stockham, president of the Foundation of FirstHealth, the success of FirstHealth’s telehealth program is due in no small part to the support it has received from the Foundation.

“This program is an example of how our Foundation members’ investments affect the quality of life and health in our communities,” says Stockham. “We provide the dollars that support the ideas and nurture them into sustainable, successful programs that make a real difference. Our initial $20,000 investment has reaped great returns for our patients. The outcomes speak for themselves.”