Health System Giant Lee Health Expands In-Home Care Capabilities

One of Florida’s largest nonprofit public health systems — Lee Health — is beefing up its virtual- and at-home care capabilities.

Lee Health’s virtual health program focuses on patients with congestive heart failure (CHF),chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension, as well as post cardio-thoracic surgery patients.

“This is the population that has chronic needs, often gets hospitalized and would benefit the greatest from continuation of care and monitoring in their home,” Dr. Zsolt Kulcsar, medical director at Lee Health, told Home Health Care News.

Founded in 1916, Lee Health operates four acute care hospitals, two specialty hospitals, three skilled nursing units, seven outpatient centers and three walk-in clinics. The health system makes more than 2 million patient contacts annually.

Kulcsar noted that Lee Health already had a number of initiatives in place focused on these populations — as COPD and CHF are common chronic diseases among seniors and middle-aged people — so adding an additional layer of monitoring and virtual care in the home was the logical next step.

When looking for a strategic partner, Lee Health was focused on a variety of factors, according to John Witenko, the system director of virtual health and telemedicine at Lee Health.

“We looked for a strategic partner that could help us from different aspects,” he told HHCN. “One aspect was technological, providing hardware and biometric data devices. The second piece [we needed a partner for] was logistics handling, so shipping the kit to the patient, circling up with the patient to onboard them and enroll them in the process and then passing it along to our clinical team.”

Lee Health also wanted a partner that could aggregate the data, so the company could integrate this information into its electronic medical record.

Telehealth vendor Health Recovery Solutions (HRS) fit the bill on all fronts.

“Lee Health has been an expert in remote patient monitoring for the last 10 years, and I think they’re using us to really take it to the next level of engaging patients to be proactive in their disease health management in the home,” Jarrett Bauer, co-founder and chairman of HRS, told HHCN.

Hoboken, New Jersey-based HRS provides medical centers, health systems and home-based care providers with a comprehensive remote monitoring platform, complete with blood pressure monitors, scales and pulse oximeters. The company also provides logistics management and patient support.

Bauer correctly pointed out that Lee Health already had its handprints on the virtual care space. In fact, the company has been delivering virtual care, and working in the home, since 2014 in a number of different capacities.

“Some were for inpatient care, high-acuity things like stroke or psychiatric visits, specific specialties where we don’t necessarily have easy access to providers to get them in contact with the patients,” Witenko said. “Additionally, since 2016, we’ve been doing ambulatory visits, allowing a patient to connect to a provider from their home or office.”

As part of Lee Health’s current virtual health program, eligible patients are identified by their primary care and specialty providers.

These patients learn about the technology while they’re at the doctor’s office or before they’re released from the hospital. The telehealth kits are sent directly to the patient’s home within a 48-hour timeframe.

“The layer of protection includes having a kit shipped to your house in which you can send us your vital signs: your blood pressure, your oxygen level, your heart rate, and your weight,” Kulcsar said. “These are all critical factors to monitor because it can indicate if you’re having a decompensation, or if you’re heading towards an exacerbation, which will land you back in the ER or the hospital.”

On top of these biometrics, patients are assigned a Lee Health nurse who monitors and makes note of any changes.

“The nurse not only monitors, but some of their role is to actually educate people about their condition,” Kulcsar said. “They educate people on how to better manage their condition in their home, and what the signs are that things are not going well. That’s the benefit of the full package.”

Bauer believes that its partnership with Lee Health is a good indication of where health care is going.

“What’s notable now is you’re seeing remote monitoring and telehealth across the whole system,” he said.

Looking ahead, Lee Health plans to expand its virtual health program to include women’s health.

“We’re going to be monitoring women who have high risk for preeclampsia, which is a very dangerous, life-threatening condition that can develop in some women who are pregnant,” Kulcsar said.

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