In late April, Sanford Health rolled out a new COVID-19 home monitoring program.
Designed to help doctors keep their eyes on patients who test positive for COVID-19, the program is proving to be beneficial less than three months later.
Sarah Prenger is the senior executive director of primary care at Sanford Health. In a recent interview on KSOO-AM in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she spoke with Alan Helgeson, host of the Sanford Health radio show “A Better You.”
She told Helgeson that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a learning experience for everyone.
“COVID really hit so quickly, causing us to change a lot of our plans. It’s been a solid learning journey for us,” said Prenger. “It’s been a wonderful exercise in how fast we can pivot. What we’re learning about COVID changes quickly, and there’s still a whole heck of a lot that we don’t know,” she said.
Sanford Health prides itself on meeting patients where they are. Leaders of the health care organization learned quickly that the home monitoring program would allow them to do that during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We immediately realized that it was an option our patients needed and clinicians need to help keep our patients safe.”
Patients are enrolled in the program in two ways:
- Immediately upon a positive COVID-19 test result
- If a patient has been in the hospital, is making great progress, and beginning to recover.
“We could send you home a little earlier than we otherwise might be able to, because we’re able to keep good eyes on you 24/7,” according to Prenger.
The program works by sending My Chart messages to patients on a daily basis, asking questions about temperature, oxygen level and symptoms. If patients don’t have access to a variety of recovery devices, such as a thermometer or oxygen saturation monitors, Sanford Health will provide them. If providers are concerned about any of the answers, they get on the phone for a consultation.
The program has eased the worry of many patients, because they’re in a setting most comfortable to them.
“We can monitor our patients 24/7 in the comfort of their own home. Patients do better there. We know they do better when they’re surrounded by family and loved ones, and they are less likely to be afraid and scared,” said Prenger.
Prenger adds that the health care provider has had “good feedback from our patients.”
“There is a whole host of emotions that go along with the physical symptoms of COVID,” she said. “Frankly, none of us like being isolated from our loved ones. With that diagnosis sometimes comes a lot of fear. We’ve really had gratitude from our patients. ‘Thank you for calling to check on me.’ ‘Thank you for not leaving me to go through this all alone.'”
The home monitoring program has allowed Sanford Health to monitor patients around the clock.
“There is a pool of nurses that are monitoring 24/7. But, there is also a group of physicians and nurse practitioners that are available every minute around the clock if a nurse were to have questions. We’re also following evidenced based protocols to determine what is that best, standardized treatment for the symptoms,” said Prenger.
Because of this constant access, health care providers have had “some really good catches,” according to Prenger.
“A patient was positive with COVID-19 and doing great. Eight hours later, the oxygen level in their blood had decreased greatly. We have had several patients that have had the same experience.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened to those patients had they not been monitored.”
Because the home monitoring program is virtual, patients in rural areas have access to the resources in larger communities.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on 41st and Marion here in Sioux Falls, or if you are sitting in a small rural community. We have patients we’re actively monitoring in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Sioux City, Iowa, really across our footprint. It doesn’t change the level of care with the technology as an option,” Prenger said.
“If you’re a patient in a rural community, you don’t have to worry, you’re not alone. The specialist can come to you in an easier fashion than we maybe would have pre-COVID,” she added.
Use going forward
Prenger says Sanford Health is always looking “100 steps ahead.” While this program is designed exclusively for COVID-19 patients, it could potentially be used for others, according to Prenger.
“How might we use this advanced technology to keep our patients with chronic disease out of the hospital? What can we do for the patients in the comfort of their own home versus always making them come to us?
“In this particular situation, it’s not forgetting about empathy and compassion. If that was me, if I was that scared patient, where would I want to be taken care of? If I could be in my own home, I would like to be.”
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