By Shelley Grieshop
COLDWATER -- At 92, Mary Ann Gebele has gained a whole new sense of independence now that she can monitor her own vital signs from the comfort of her home.
A small piece of user-friendly equipment -- about the size of most alarm clocks -- gives the Coldwater woman the freedom to live on her own while medical experts keep a close watch on her health.
"I thought with my condition, congestive heart failure, if I can keep an eye on my weight and blood pressure, it might be able to keep me out of the hospital," she says with a confident smile.
Mercer Health, based in Coldwater, recently acquired 15 Honeywell HomMed telemonitors to provide remote patient monitoring, at no cost, to patients in their Home Care program. The funds for the monitors were donated by the Coldwater American Legion.
The machine, used in about 400 health agencies across the U.S., can be customized to retrieve a variety of vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, weight, and glucose and oxygen readings. The monitor uses text and voice prompts to help patients through the five- to 10-minute process. "Good morning, it's time to take your vitals," the perky sounding voice announces at 10 a.m., the time Gebele chose to begin the session each day. During a trial run, she demonstrates how easy it is to place the blood pressure cuff on her arm and press a single button to begin the process.
After the machine records her vital information, it begins a series of programmed questions that Gebele, who receives oxygen for her condition, answers by touching a white button for "yes," and a black one for "no."
"Are your ankles swollen?" and "Are you having difficulty breathing?" are just a few of the questions asked. Then, with a final button touch, Gebele sends the data via the telephone line (a free 800 number) to the Home Care office in Celina, where it is read and analyzed by nurses. The information can then be passed along to the patient's physician(s).
"She can do it just once daily or more often if she isn't feeling well or has a concern," explains Mary Gillum, clinical consultant for Honeywell.
Pressing the "retest" button begins the process anytime of the day.
A patient has 30 minutes from the time the automated program begins to answer the voice on the machine. If they miss the deadline, the monitor automatically sends an "empty package" to the office, alerting personnel who will contact the patient for a welfare check, Gillum says.
The monitors can be rented to other interested individuals, although Home Care patients receive priority on the limited devices, Mercer Health Registered Nurse Cindy Hemmelgarn says. Mercer Health is currently contacting case managers for various insurance companie's including Medicaid to determine whether use of the monitors is covered under those plans.
Gebele, a widow who receives in-home health monitoring from a registered nurse as well as housekeeping aid, believes the telemonitor will keep her out of the hospital and reduce the exhausting and inconvenient trips to her physician's office.
"I know the nurses can't be here all the time," she says, pausing for a moment to catch her breath. "It's difficult running to the doctor all the time."
Gebele says the small box nestled on her end table means true liberation to all senior citizens or anyone with health issues.
"We all like to stay in our homes as long as we can," she says. "And besides, it's kind of nice hearing that voice and having someone else in the house to say good morning to."