November 15, 2019 – One of the challenges in developing telehealth and remote patient monitoring programs outside the hospital is finding a platform that almost anyone can use comfortably. The programs will only work if parents, school nurses and clinic staff can use the tools.
Avera eCARE, the telehealth arm of Avera Health, is putting that idea to the test in a partnership with Tyto Care, the Israeli startup that is making news with its consumer-facing and clinician-facing telemedicine devices aimed at replicating the doctor’s exam in homes, clinics and schools.
The Sioux Falls, SD-based health system, comprising 35 hospitals and hundreds of sites across several Midwestern states, is placing Tyto Care’s TytoPro connected health device into the hands of non-clinicians in schools, senior care and – soon – assisted living facilities and rural clinics. The health system’s goal is to turn as many locations as possible into a virtual doctor’s office, giving rural and remote residents on-demand access to care providers.
Mandy Bell, Avera eCARE’s Quality and Innovation Officer, said the health system was been using a school-based telehealth platform for roughly two years. She says the program has existed under the caveat that the technology can be used just as easily by school secretaries and teachers as by doctors and nurses.
“We are taking a very clinical device and putting it in the hands of a non-clinician,” she says, adding that the device was first tested in-house before its deployment into the community.
Avera, one of the larger and more rural health systems in the country, is facing the same challenges as other health systems looking to make remote patient monitoring and rural telehealth programs work: How does one create a platform that can capture data reliably and unobtrusively, giving care providers what they want while not being such a burden that remote users abandon using it?
Bell, who sees the platform extending to hospitalist and specialty care within the next year, says health systems need to develop workflows specific to each telehealth program, then test them often. A school will require different things out of its platform than a senior care center, a doctor’s office or a skilled nursing facility.
“We had to proceed very carefully,” she says. “Everyone had to spend some time becoming comfortable with the (technology), and then we started winning people over.”
Avera’s partnership with Tyto Care is the latest in a string of successes for the company, which burst onto the scene in 2016 with a digital stethoscope and is now marketing telemedicine kits to healthcare providers as well as the consumer market. Along with partnerships with the likes of Avera and New Orleans-based Ochsner Health, the company is now selling its TytoHome kit nationally in Best Buy stores.
Designed with a little bit more complexity than the consumer-facing device, the TytoPro platform includes a hand-held device with exam camera, thermometer, otoscope, stethoscope (with volume, bell and diaphragm filters), and tongue depressor adaptors, as well earbuds. It also includes the TytoVisit platform, comprised of the TytoApp and Clinician dashboard, for conducting live telehealth exams, reviewing exams and communicating with patients.
Tyto Care is one of several mHealth and telehealth vendors looking to give clinicians reliable virtual care technology for the home and clinic space, at a time when health systems are intrigued by the popularity of consumer-facing products but wary of their accuracy.
While testing the platform in-house, Avera also tried out the technology in an assisted living facility. In a pilot program, officials said the platform enabled 93 percent of the facility’s residents to be treated in place and reduced emergency department transfers by 71 percent.
“Technology that assists telemedicine providers to visualize inside of the ear, and to use a stethoscope as if they are in the room, offers a more complete picture of the patient’s health to the entire care team,” Joshua Hofmeyer, Avera eCARE’s Senior Care Officer, said in a press release.
Bell, meanwhile, says the platform needs more integration. They’d like to add more devices to the menu, and improve links to the health system’s patient portal to ease the transfer of relevant data to the patient’s medical record. Current telehealth and RPM programs usually pair up with an information system, she says, and it’s expected that future improvements include more integration with the electronic health record.
“We are excited about the possibilities,” she says. “We’re coming a lot closer to the traditional office visit.”