Daily nursing contact via touchscreen technology helped to get 79-year-old George back into his veggie garden, says Selwyn Foundation’s Hilda Johnson-Bogaerts.

The experienced aged care nurse is the general manager of the Selwyn Institute for Ageing and Spirituality, which initiated a pilot into using tablet-based telehealth technology to help older people living at home to manage their long-term conditions.

The case study Johnson-Bogaerts shared was of George, a man with heart failure (leading to multiple hospital admissions, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and hypertension.

As part of the pilot, George had access to a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, thermometer and scales, which were connected by Bluetooth to a touchscreen tablet. He used the devices to take his ‘vitals’ daily, with the information digitally delivered to his telehealth nurse Sandi Milner.

During follow-up teleconferences on the tablet – to discuss missed out or out-of-range readings – Sandi found out that George had a problem with constipation, had little energy and had stopped gardening. She also found out that George – who had been advised to go on a low-salt diet – wasn’t sharing meals with his family and was trying to resolve his constipation by eating cornflakes.

Johnson-Bogaerts said the telehealth nurse guided George on how to check the salt content on the packaging of food, like his cornflakes, and shared advice on how to better manage his fluid and salt intakes.  Sandi also suggested he try kiwifruit and he slowly started to introduce fruit and vegetables back into his diet and to eat with his family again.

Over six weeks he improved and over the four months he learnt to better control his symptoms. At the post-discharge check, George reported he was out in the garden planting vegetables, feeling better than he had felt in years and had had no hospital admissions.

Following the pilot, the telehealth-based chronic disease management programme is now being delivered by a joint venture between the Selwyn Foundation and Australian provider Feros Care, called Inviga. A second telehealth care pilot also got underway late last year, which involved retirement village residents having home-based video consultations with the on-site doctor.

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