When COVID-19 crashed into everyone’s reality, the way care is provided changed — rapidly. While the rest of the world was busy trying to flatten the curve, Deaconess Health System was ahead of the curve thanks to their telehealth program.

The not-for-profit healthcare system operates in 26 counties serving Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. With nearly 8,000 employees, 11 hospitals, 96 locations, and 538 providers, the coordination of care during a crisis can be difficult. With COVID-19 hitting patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and COPD, the remote monitoring program helps keep patients safe and healthy while abiding by social distancing recommendations.

The Evansville, Ind.-based healthcare system implemented remote patient monitoring (RPM) in 2018. The RPM program is aimed at preventing emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and readmissions by high-risk utilizers, and lasts for 30 to 90 days depending on a patient’s wellness progress.

“There is a window in a patient’s disease progression that allows for making the most impact,” said Alli Flowers, telehealth clinical manager. “For the most part, the majority of patients have been very compliant when asked to participate.”

Being able to get patients on board with the program quickly and with as little hassle as possible is important, she said. To do this, Deaconess assigned one nurse as a contact for the program to monitor and follow-up with patients. This nurse assists with the set-up of the kit the patient receives once enrolling.

The patients are sent a remote monitoring kit directly to their home from Vivify, a telemonitoring company Deaconess utilizes for the service, and includes instructions on how to use the contents. The kit consists of a Bluetooth video-enabled tablet, scale, blood pressure monitor, and a pulse oximeter to monitor oxygen levels.

“The tablet comes with a pre-paid internet connection,” Flowers said, “which was identified as one of the barriers facing many patients in both rural and urban settings.”

The connectivity is very important, as the technology uploads data daily to a web-based portal, which the program nurse monitors.

If any issues arise during the program, the patient is triaged and the issue is addressed for further care planning. Deaconess and the program participants are seeing the benefits of the service, as it allows patients to connect via video with the nurse and quickly do assessments in real-time. The immediate service feature and improvements in patients’ clinical outcomes have garnered positive satisfaction survey results from participants.

“A word of advice: do not underestimate the need for a nurse with a specific skillset. I know our nurse is experienced and knowledgeable with a passion for patient education,” Flowers said. “And the results we are seeing proves it.”

The data collected from the program includes 30-day readmission rates, total readmissions, and the number of emergency department visits from six months prior to and after starting the program.

“We would definitely do this again,” Flowers said, adding that the lessons learned and the benefits they’ve seen far outweigh any concerns they had going into the process. And with COVID-19 ever-present, this program allows Deaconess to provide the best care possible during a time of crisis.