Home is where the heart check is

Each patient is given a personal health tablet, a weighing machine and a blood pressure monitor to use daily for a year. The readings are uploaded automatically to a central system via a 3G network.
Each patient is given a personal health tablet, a weighing machine and a blood pressure monitor to use daily for a year. The readings are uploaded automatically to a central system via a 3G network.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Five patients in telehealth pilot scheme can skip visits to Changi hospital

Every morning after he awakes, Mr Mohamed Faizul sits for two minutes with a blood pressure cuff wrapped round his left arm and waits.

Soon, readings for his blood pressure and pulse appear on the screen of a mobile tablet he has been given. That is how he knows that the data has reached telenurses in Changi General Hospital (CGH) from his home in Bedok.

He is one of five CGH heart failure patients testing a new telehealth system - a long-distance health-care method using communication technology - set up by the Eastern Health Alliance (EH Alliance). It is hoped that it will allow heart failure patients to spend more time out of hospitals, recovering at home.

CGH senior consultant in cardiology Gerard Leong said patients can also view a 28-day chart of their readings on the tablet to track their progress and diminish the "feeling of unknown" about heart failure. "In my experience, that will help the patient be more involved in his health care and continue with his medication and lifestyle management," said Dr Leong during the official launch of the pilot scheme at CGH yesterday.

Each patient is given a personal health tablet, a weighing machine and a blood pressure monitor to use daily for a year. The readings are uploaded automatically to a central system via a 3G network.

Telenurses track the readings and will give patients a phone call if they see tell-tale signs, such as sudden weight gain, over three days.

Early detection can cut the rate of emergency hospital visits, which tend to be high for heart failure patients. Often, this is because they do not take their medication consistently, or fail to watch their diet and fluid intake. At CGH, one in four heart failure patients is back in hospital within 12 months.

The pilot scheme will end in 2016 and will be rolled out to other hospitals if it is successful. It aims to enrol 150 patients by October next year and help hospitals to boost productivity and cut costs.

Patient compliance with protocol is something the EH Alliance and its partner, health-care solutions provider Philips Health, will watch closely.

But compliance has not been a problem for 34-year-old Mr Faizul since he joined the programme last month. "It helps me slow down and take care of my health," he said, adding that the telenurses call him two or three times a week. "They have become like my mother."

marilee@sph.com.sg