Virtual house calls

'Telemedicine' could be the future of health care

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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From 37 miles away, 92-year-old Jack Taugner meets face-to-face with his doctor without leaving home.

With the touch of a button, jack, who suffers from hypertension, stage four kidney failure, and anemia, connects through an "iPad-like" device for a remote, routine appointment.

"We hope it's the way of the future. We think this is what healthcare for the older, sicker patient is going to look like across the world," explained Edward Perrin, MD, Family Physician/Geriatrician , Banner iCare.

In one of the largest retirement communities in Arizona, as of April 2014, 174 seniors have signed-up to put these "virtual house calls" to the test, including Jack and his daughter Marcia.

"I could breathe easy when I walked out the door knowing that there were a team of people to be with me and dad," said Marcia.

Along with the FaceTime capability, the pilot program called Banner iCare can fill prescriptions through the tablets. Patients even have their vitals checked at home, which are transmitted to a command center.

"When I explain it to patients, they say why are you doing this, and I say, 'well, we expect to save money and keep people healthy this way,'" Perrin said.

Still in its infancy, only nine-months-old, the program is hoping to prove convenience and better patient care.

"We have many stories of catching things earlier," Perrin explained.

For Jack, the technology has provided peace-of-mind, and he says was easy to learn.

"Elementary, it was simple," he said.

These virtual house calls come at no additional cost to patients or insurance companies and banner health is hoping to expand the program to 500 patients by this summer. 

Additional Information:

In 1930, house calls accounted for 40 percent of physician interactions. By 1980, that number dropped to one percent. However, one study estimated that in 2010 about 4,000 physicians conducted more than two million house calls, doing things like taking care of people with fever and stomach pain, or cuts needing stitches. These kinds of urgent-care problems are treated best by a house call, but account for about 40 percent of the nearly 130 million annual visits to emergency rooms. Now, house calls are going virtual. Banner Health has started a program that allows patients suffering from disease the ability to communicate with doctors, as well as allow them to monitor their vitals from home. (Source:

VIRTUAL HOUSE CALLS: Seniors are now using medical devices similar to the iPad for better health. Phillips, the international company offering innovative health care and consumer technology, has teamed with Banner Health (one of the nation's largest nonprofit health systems) to create a pilot program called "Banner iCare Primary Care Program." Following hospital stays, seniors use the device to communicate with physicians, nurses, and others who remotely monitor patients' vital signs, weight, blood pressure, diet and share this information directly at the touch of a button. For example, patients recently released from the hospital can have follow-up "check-ups" with their physicians via a Skype-like video visit. Patients can discuss concerns, prescription confusion, and other issues remotely without the hassle of making appointments and going to the doctor's office. For providers, the remote system offers convenience, efficiency, and an additional layer of supervised care. (Source: Banner Health)

CASE STUDY: A small study of 20 people with Parkinson's disease suggests that virtual house calls using Web-based video conferencing provide clinical benefits comparable to in-person doctor visits, while saving patients and their caregivers' time and travel. "If this proof-of-concept study is affirmed, the findings open the door to a new era where anyone anywhere can receive the care she needs," associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was quoted as saying. Dorsey also says that wider use of virtual house calls is not without hurdles. For example, under current Medicare rules, doctors are not reimbursed for providing remote care directly into the home. There are also licensing issues. For the study, researchers enrolled 20 Parkinson's disease patients who had internet. Nine were randomly selected to receive three virtual house calls, while 11 were scheduled for three-in-person visits over the course of seven months. Roughly the same number of patients made their scheduled visits (one in-person patient missed a visit because of a car accident on the way to the appointment), and quality-of-life changes did not differ between the two groups. The researchers also found that the care was no better - but no worse-for those seen "virtually" or in person. (source:

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