Humana to show power of telehealth

By Eric Wicklund
08:28 AM

Pilot to monitor patients with congestive heart failure

ST. PETERSBURG, FL  -  Advocates and critics alike talk about finding the data to back up claims that telehealth can be successful. Officials at Humana and Intel-GE Care Innovations say they'll have those numbers shortly, thanks to a nationwide collaboration.

Humana Cares, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based complex and chronic care management division of the national insurer, is wrapping up a 34-state project, launched last January, in which 1,000 members with congestive heart failure were given the Intel-GE Care Innovations Guide, a home-based telehealth device that connects the user with a wide variety of resources and care providers.

Humana officials say many of the members enrolled in the program don't want to give up their devices.

"As we are removing these devices from the home, we are really seeing how connected the members are to their devices and how connected they are to the nurse" who maintains a link through the device, says Kate Marcus, clinical operations manager for Humana Cares. "Members really liked the opportunity to see and interact with a nurse ... and the nurses liked that as well ... It may make sense to put something in place and keep it in place in the future."

Produced by Intel-GE Care Innovations, a telehealth-focused joint venture between the two tech giants, the Guide is designed to gather and analyze biometric and other data to help users actively participate in their own healthcare decisions, while enabling clinicians to reinforce behavior and wellness decisions and connect with the patient in the home at any time. Humana's members are connected to nurses based at Intel-GE Care Innovations' Florida call center.

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"What they've done is essentially taken care of these patients on a day-by-day basis," says Louis Burns, Intel-GE Care Innovations' CEO, who points out that the program isn't replacing anyone's primary care provider or causing physicians to lose out on business. "When (the patients) need to get to a doctor, they get to a doctor."

"Doctors need more information at the right format and at the right time," he adds.

Marcus says the project emphasizes "just-in-time teaching," giving members the opportunity to interact with providers on a daily basis, rather than during less-than-frequent trips to the doctor or when an emergency occurs. By stressing daily healthcare management, she says, both patients and caregivers are able to react more quickly to healthcare concerns and treat them before they lead to more serious problems.

"This is a connection," she emphasizes.

Adds Burns: "What we're also trying to do is enable confidence in the elders. A lot of them want to live where they live and age the way they want to age, with dignity and confidence."

While the numbers aren't in yet  -  Marcus wants to see at least three months of insurance data before she'll talk about the project's effectiveness  -  past studies and statistics lend weight to its potential. The Centers for Disease Control, in a study conducted in 2011, indicated home-based monitoring could save the nation more than $7 billion through fewer emergency room visits (a figure based on estimates that home health monitor costs about $10 a day, while a night in a hospital's intensive care unit can cost $10,000 and a nursing home averages $200 per night). Meanwhile, Stanford University evaluated two clinics using Bosch Healthcare's Health Buddy  -  a similar device to the Guide  -  and found savings of between 7 percent and 13 percent per quarter on each elderly patient.

Burns says the results of the study should help end what he calls "pilotitis."

"What we have to stop doing is pilot after pilot after pilot," he says. "With these projects, there's proof that it works  -  why we have to continue to pilot frustrates me. People need to get moving."