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More MS news articles for December 2003

Reducing distance between patients and health care providers

December 4, 2003
Abigail Klingbeil
The Journal News

Pramod K. Gaur, president and chief executive officer of Tarrytown-based Viterion TeleHealthcare LLC, spent part of a recent Friday helping his colleagues test their blood pressure, blood oxygen level and other vital signs.

Gaur was demonstrating the capability of his company's home health care monitoring systems: the Viterion 500 TeleHealth Monitor and Viterion 100 TeleHealth Monitor. Viterion, formed by a partnership of Bayer Diagnostics and Panasonic, is based in a suite of offices at Bayer Diagnostics' headquarters in Tarrytown and employs 16 people.

People with chronic medical conditions who are under the supervision of a physician use the Viterion systems to track their vital signs at home. The information is transmitted through telephone lines to a health care provider, allowing nurses and doctors to monitor a patient from afar.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just last month approved the Viterion 100 system. About the size of a Kleenex box, it's smaller and $2,000 less expensive than the Viterion 500, which has an added video feature.

Viterion and the technology it produces are part of a growing industry called telehealth, which uses electronic communication to monitor and support patient health.

Gaur, a Katonah resident who previously worked on Bayer's worldwide strategic planning, sees telehealth as a way to help elderly people remain independent. "Given a choice, people would rather stay home than go to a nursing home," Gaur says.

Richard Keirstead, 72, says his Viterion 500 system saves him many time-consuming trips to the Veterans Affairs Hospital. The Guilford, Conn., resident has a multitude of health problems, including heart disease, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

On a daily basis, Keirstead uses the Viterion to monitor his blood sugar, blood pressure, blood oxygen level and other vital signs. The machine transmits the data to nurses at the VA Hospital in West Haven, Conn. The system allows nurses to send e-mail messages to Keirstead, and monitor his appearance using the built-in video system.

"The only thing it can't do is write a prescription," says Keirstead, an Air Force veteran.

Before he began using the Viterion system about 3 1/2 years ago, Keirstead would visit the VA Hospital about eight to 10 times a month for the kind of testing he can now do from his living room. Now he visits the hospital once every two months.

"It's enhanced my life," Keirstead says about the health-monitoring system.

The VA, one of Viterion's biggest customers, conducted a study where 47 patients used the Viterion systems and 57 patients received usual care. After six months, the VA found emergency room visits dropped 26 percent in the telehealth patients and were unchanged for the control group.

Donna C. Vogel, program director of Continuing Care & Case Management for the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, says the VA has a "telehealth algorithm" to select suitable candidates for home health monitoring systems.

"We always do a full assessment of the patients' needs, their readiness to learn and their willingness to use and implement the technology," Vogel says.

Jon Linkous, executive director of Washington D.C.-based American Telemedicine Association, says the home care application of telehealth represents a "tremendous market" based on the aging of the population and the growing number of people concerned about their health care.

Linkous says no clear leader has emerged from the handful of companies, including Viterion, that make home health care monitoring systems linked to health care physicians. Gaur says Viterion distinguishes itself by its ease of use for both patients and health care providers.

Craig Lehmann, dean and professor at the School of Health Technology and Management at Stony Brook University, says telehealth cuts health care costs and improves patient health.

Lehmann, an adviser to Viterion, says funding is the biggest hurdle toward home-based telehealth systems becoming more prevalent. The Viterion 500 costs about $5,000; the Viterion 100 costs about $3,000.

The reimbursement picture for telehealth systems is mixed. Medicare does not directly reimburse telehealth services. Lehmann says his research shows health care payers could save $1.6 billion a year if home-based telehealth systems were provided to diabetes patients.

"As the baby boomers reach that golden age when they fall under Medicare, you can't afford to be putting people in nursing homes and not managing them better, because it's going to break the bank," Lehmann says.

Copyright © 2003, The Journal News