When Dr. Kathryn Walker and David Brennan, MBE, director of Telehealth Initiatives at MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2), met at MedStar Health Research Institute’s annual retreat in 2014, they quickly realized they had something in common: an interest in using connected health to improve access to care for patients with serious illnesses.
Eager to work together, they secured funding from the Verizon Foundation to start the Palliative Telehealth Connecting Hospital to Home (PaTCH2) program. The program extends existing palliative care services in the form of a specially configured tablet, by using connected health technology to provide supportive care to critically ill patients at home.
PaTCH2 currently enrolls patients at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and MedStar Harbor Hospital. The PaTCH2team links with home health nurses from the MedStar Visiting Nurse Association and other providers at each site to coordinate care.
Before being discharged from the hospital, the care team meets with patients and their families to enroll them in the program and train them on the use of the tablet. Once home, patients can use the tablet to send messages to and video conference with members of the care team from the comfort of their home. Patients also can access educational videos and resources specific to their condition, as well as an updated personal medication list.
“Up until now, clinicians were mostly blind to what happened to patients at home, unfortunately often until they got sick again and returned to the hospital,” explains Brennan, who with MI2, helped catalyze the program. “Technology has finally caught up to where we need to be: providing tools that can be used easily in the home.”
At 93 years old, Myrna Curtis could not be more grateful to be part of the program. She has been in the PaTCH2program since 2014, after she was seen in the emergency room for shortness of breath. “I’m able to stay home and get the kind of care that I need, since I can’t get around,” Myrna states. She appreciates the emotional support of having access to someone at the hospital with whom she feels comfortable and that knows her health issues and medications, and can explain them to her. Myrna has not been readmitted to the hospital in more than a year, largely due to the coordinated care she receives through the program.
In addition to a decrease in readmission rates, the PaTCH2 program has positively impacted patient safety events, with pharmacists participating in nearly 50 medical interventions to date, most frequently on questions related to treatment adherence and medication dosage. The program has also highly impacted patient quality of life, as televisits with the care team can provide a sense of connection with the outside world that is often a challenge for homebound patients.
The PaTCH2 program represents a crucial intersection of research and innovation supporting the health of the community. It is a clear example of MedStar Health entities coming together with a collective goal—increasing access to high quality palliative care for patients with serious illness, while using emerging technologies to make a difference in caring for people and advancing health.