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An Angel on my Shoulder

Mobile telemedicine helps skilled nursing facilities reduce hospital readmissions

by Kimberly McGhee

reducing readmissionsIn June, Zeriscope™, a technology company based in Charleston, SC, reached an agreement with White Oak Management (WOM) of Spartanburg, SC, to provide its mobile telemedicine platform to more than a dozen of its skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

Zeriscope™ is an enterprise-grade, hands-free, mobile-first, multi-sensor SaaS (Software as a Service) platform. Nurses empowered with a Zeriscope-enabled mobile device are able to stream their point-of-view from a tethered camera system in real-time, high-definition video, with advanced sensor streams such as Bluetooth stethoscope audio.

Like hospitals before them, SNFs are looking to telemedicine to help lower rates of readmission, but the costs associated with traditional point-to-point telemedicine may prove a barrier, as profit margins for SNFs can be very narrow. The answer could lie in mobile telemedicine, which carries a much smaller price tag.

“A point-to-point telemedicine system can cost tens of thousands of dollars and requires a lot of infrastructure,” said Zeriscope Chief Executive Officer Bill Harley. “Our system is much less expensive, making it a viable option for SNFs.”

In 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will require SNFs to report hospital readmission rates, and the performance by SNFs on this measure will begin to affect their bottom line in 2018.

White Oak Management was quick to see the potential of Zeriscope™ to improve patient care and prevent unnecessary hospital readmissions. “We instantly realized that the Zeriscope platform could be a game changer in lowering the rates of patient rehospitalization and avoidable readmissions,” said John Barber, Chief Financial Officer of WOM.

Without telemedicine, the only recourse for nurses at SNFs is to verbally describe the patient’s condition over the telephone. Much is lost in the translation—the physician has no way of assessing the patient’s appearance and behavior and no way of checking real-time physiologic data. Because a comprehensive assessment is not possible, the physician often opts—out of an excess of caution—to transport the patient to the emergency department or hospital for further evaluation.

Zeriscope™ makes possible a much more comprehensive assessment of SNF patients by off-site physicians, enabling them to “see the patients” in high-definition real-time streaming video, communicate with SNF staff, and access real-time physiologic sensor data.

“The ability to see, hear, listen to the heart and lungs, see the EKG, and interact with the staff and family is expected to reduce preventable admissions to the emergency department or hospital,” said Robert J. Adams, M.D., President and Chief Medical Officer of Zeriscope. Adams, South Carolina SmartStateTM Endowed Chair in Stroke at MUSC Health, is one of the inventors of Zeriscope and has an equity interest in the company, as does MUSC’s Foundation for Research Development.

Avoiding unnecessary hospital readmissions with mobile telemedicine not only makes good financial sense; it’s good medicine. SNF patients, who may be frail and face mobility challenges, are provided the best of medical care in a setting where they are comfortable without having to endure the stress of ambulance transport and the risk of fractures and infections. Nurses are empowered to treat more patients in place with confidence, knowing they have an angel on their shoulder—24/7 access to the expert advice of a physician.