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'Telly' to link patients, doctors

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

The New Year will bring a new way for patients at McKeesport's John J. Kane Regional Center to contact doctors.

Beginning at Glen Hazel, three of the four Allegheny County-run Kane skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers will get telemedicine ties to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospitals.

“The roll-out of telemedicine at McKeesport is anticipated by late January after all staff are trained,” said county spokeswoman Amie Downs.

Using a device called “Telly,” a UPMC clinician will be able to remotely perform a history and physical examination of a patient.

It can include a patient's eyes, ears, nose, throat, lungs, heart, abdomen, skin, extremities and nervous system.

“Telemedicine used by nurse practitioners to conduct consultations primarily for an acute change in condition in the nursing home is effective in the medical management of residents,” said Dr. Steven Handler, medical director for long-term care technology at UPMC Senior Communities.

“Bringing telemedicine to the Kane centers will improve the speed and efficiency with which residents receive medical consultations when there is a change in their health,” county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “It will also reduce the need to transport residents to a hospital or emergency room, which is difficult for some of them.”

The Kane center in Ross Township is on the list to get a telemedicine link along with Glen Hazel and McKeesport, but not the Kane center in Scott Township.

“Scott was not eligible because of the number of non-Medicare/Medical assistance residents,” Downs said.

Handler is medical director of telemedicine and health information technology for UPMC's RAVEN program.

RAVEN stands for Reduce AVoidable hospitalizations using Evidence-based interventions for Nursing facilities in Western Pennsylvania.

In September 2012 RAVEN was one of seven initiatives chosen by the federal government for collaboration with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which gave UPMC a $19 million grant.

The goal was to improve care, lower costs and reduce hospital readmission rates.

Handler said a feasibility study conducted at UPMC's Canterbury Place senior community in Lawrenceville showed that telemedicine as used by nurse practitioners “avoids the need for face-to-face visits, and can help avoid resident transfers to the hospital/emergency department.”

“Telly” will not replace all direct face-to-face care.

“We recognize that a patient's physician or nurse practitioner is sometimes not available at the skilled nursing facility to evaluate and treat the resident when there is a change in their usual state of health,” Kane executive director Dennis Biondo said.

County officials said family members with a telephone or computer will be able to link with “Telly,” to be involved in decisions about treatment options and/or change to a patient's care plan.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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