Friday, September 23, 2005

Telehealth in Montana

From the Missoulian:

Every morning while Katy Jourdonnais reads her newspaper, she is interrupted by a semi-robotic female voice.

It's time to take your vital signs, the voice reminds Jourdonnais.

The reminder is essential, as Jourdonnais suffers from congestive heart failure, a serious condition that weakens the heart over time. There is no cure, but with proper monitoring and treatment, patients can live long full lives.

The box, more of an electronic nurse, directs Jourdonnais, 89, through the process. It takes her blood pressure, monitors her weight, heart rate and even her oxygen level. Then the information is beamed via a telephone line to a central nursing station.

If there is a sudden change in Jourdonnais' vitals, a nurse gives her a call or pays her a visit.

The new telehealth monitor has given health care providers a third eye in caring for their patients. Telemedicine - sometimes called distance medicine - is one of the newest forms of communication between clinicians and patients.

Using telecommunications technology, health care providers can prevent uncomfortable delays, travel expenses and family separation by bringing specialized medical care directly to the people who need it - or, as in Jourdonnais' case, can simply monitor a patient's day-to-day status.

American Telemedicine Association reports that telemedicine is being practiced in rural areas, school districts, home-health settings, and nursing homes, and on cruise ships and NASA space missions.

By monitoring a patient's vital signs every day, nurses are able to watch for trends and make any needed treatment or medication changes.

Jourdonnais was the first person in Missoula County to receive a telehealth monitor, and she likes it, even though she said it's a little bossy.

"You feel like there is somebody watching over your shoulder," she said. "And I can call them up in a minute if I need to."


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