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VNA CIO discourses on future of telehealth

Hugh Hale, CIO and senior vice president, information technology, of Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a veteran of three decades in the healthcare and tech businesses, says about the pace of technological advancement in telehealth and medical care today: “This is the most seismic amount of change I’ve seen not only in home care, but in healthcare overall,” Hale told an audience at the mHealth + Telehealth World 2014 conference in Boston.

This visiting nurse association (VNA) group — the biggest nonprofit home healthcare agency in the country — takes care of the urban population of the five boroughs of New York and parts of suburban Westchester and Suffolk counties.

That’s more than 70,000 patients, 2.2 million home visits — in total, 35,000 visits a day by the VNA’s 18,000 employees.

Telehealth is important to the VNA, Hale said, because “everything we do is aimed at keeping patients out of the hospital.”

Toward that goal, the New York VNA depends heavily on the backbone of population health: data analytics. The VNA mines data to see which patients have family histories of chronic disease, how many patients are making frequent trips to hospital emergency rooms, and who is showing up for doctor’s visits, among other trends.

Traditionally, Hale said, the nurses’ group has built its own applications, but in a major overhaul of the VNA’s technological infrastructure that is going on now, “we’re shifting from a build to a buy” with an emphasis on best of breed products.

In April, the VNA chose Delta Health Technologies, a homecare-specialized EHR vendor, to handle workflow using integrated clinical support and revenue cycle management.Recently, the VNA decided to swap out thousands of tablets used by nurses in the field in favor of new models. The new tablets were chosen by a panel of nurses whom Hale and other managers picked specifically because they were the most critical of the old devices.

As for the future of telehealth, Hale sees the horizon populated with super-advanced wearable devices that can instantaneously detect falls and “smart beds” that monitor a range of vital signs. There are smart beds on the market, such as one made by Vista Medical, that use pressure mapping to detect ulceration and other maladies that afflict bed-bound patients.

In a conversation with SearchHealthIT after his presentation, Hale said he expects smart beds to also be able to reliably monitor blood pressure, heart rate and sleep patterns.

“They are the wave of the future,” he said.

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