USDA grant extends Oklahoma telemedicine project

FRAMINGHAM (11/13/2003) - On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded a four-year grant for nearly US$500,000 to Cybernet Medical, a provider of biometric monitoring technology and medical devices for outpatient care.

The grant will be used to continue a rural telemedicine project between Cybernet and Integris Health's rural telemedicine project for chronic disease patients in rural Oklahoma. The project's pilot program began in October 2002 for 11 patients. Beginning in December, the grant will assist 200 patients in six Integris hospitals suffering from heart failure, diabetes, stroke, and congestive obstructive pulmonary diseases.

With Cybernet's MedStar system, patients will be able to receive care and treatment remotely, reducing the need for home health nurses to make house calls, which frequently require them to drive more than 50 miles for each patient visit. "This system is not designed to eliminate home health nurse visits to patients' homes altogether," said Cynthia Scheideman-Miller, Integris rural telemedicine project director. "It is offering a way for patients to stay at home and still receive proper care."

Through a standard phone connection and integration with a StarView videophone, patients and nurses communicate as if they were in the same room, Scheideman-Miller said. The MedStar unit is a modem-like device connected to a videophone, electronic scales, blood pressure cuffs, spirometers, and pulse oximetry and glucose monitors. Information taken from these devices is routed through the MedStar unit through telephone lines and can be accessed by clinicians on the Web.

"With the video component, patients and nurses are still able to see each other whenever needed," Scheideman-Miller said. "Nurses are still able to do the same things that are done in person, like adjust medication and identify trends in a patient's condition (weight gain or an increase in blood pressure), which may raise flags. Video visits also allow nurses to offer patients guidance if they don't have a device properly hooked up, and make them feel like they are in an actual visit despite not being in the same room."

For the telemedicine project to be effective, Scheideman-Miller stressed that members of the patient's family must also understand how telemedicine works. "Often, families can misinterpret this procedure as a substitution for a real visit with the quality of care decreasing. Once family members realize this will provide patients with better and more frequent care, they see the real benefits."

The same holds true for patients, of course. "Patient acceptance (of telemedicine) is often low at first but typically turns around once (patients) recognize the value of the system and stay healthy through remote care-giving," said Eric Lichtenstein, Cybernet Medical project manager.

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