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Health Beat: Virtual house calls: The future of health care?

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: May 30 2014 01:27:15 PM CDT
Updated On: May 30 2014 04:44:18 PM CDT

It's being called "the future of health care" — telemedicine — which is typically used for doctors in remote areas — is now being tested in people's homes.

PHOENIX -

It's the way of the future. From 37 miles away, Jack Taugner, 92, meets face-to-face with his doctor without leaving home.

With the touch of a button, Taugner, who suffers from hypertension, stage four kidney failure, and anemia, connects through an iPad-like device for a remote, routine appointment.

"We hope it's the way of the future. We think this is what health care for the older, sicker patient is going to look like across the world," said Dr. Edward Perrin, family physician/geriatrician, Banner iCare.

In one of the largest retirement communities in Arizona, as of April 2014, 174 seniors have signed up to put these "virtual house calls" to the test, including Taugner and daughter Marcia

"I could breathe easy when I walked out the door knowing that there were a team of people to be with me and dad," said Marcia Taugner.

Along with the face time capability, the pilot program, called Banner iCare, can fill prescriptions through the tablets. Patients even have their vitals checked at home, which are transmitted to a command center.

"When I explain it to patients, they say, 'Why are you doing this?' and I say, 'Well, we expect to save money and keep people healthy this way,'" Perrin said.

Still in its infancy, only nine-months-old, the program is hoping to prove convenience and better patient care.

"We have many stories of catching things earlier," Perrin explained.

For Jack Taugner, the technology has provided peace-of-mind, and he said it was easy to learn.

"Elementary. It was simple," Taugner said.

The virtual house calls come at no additional cost to patients or insurance companies, and Banner Health is hoping to expand the program to 500 patients by this summer.

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