July 17, 1992
Purdue Device Delivers Doctor To Your Home
WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. High technology may help bring back an old-fashioned service with a new computer program that allows doctors to make "house-calls" to check on patients' progress.
The program, developed at Purdue University, relies on the use of a touch-tone phone and a computer to communicate with patients at home. The computer calls the patients at pre-arranged times and asks patients to respond to a series of questions -- usually just five to 10 questions long, says Dr. Charles Babbs, a researcher with Purdue's Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center who designed the program together with research assistant Umesh Patel.
"Patients answer 'yes' or 'no' to the questions by pressing designated numbers on their phones," Babbs says. "Doctors can also ask patients to use the numbers on their phones to enter temperature, weight, pulse rate, or other variables."
The responses are recorded and automatically processed into a report that is monitored daily by a nurse or other health-care professional. Through this monitoring process, doctors can detect changes that might signal a need for follow-up care.
"For example, we found a heart patient who began experiencing a rapid weight gain due to water retention," Babbs says. "After noticing this on the report, the physician called the patient and asked him to increase his medication. With the new medication levels, the problem with water retention was promptly relieved."
Babbs says the new program can help keep a lid on health-care costs by allowing doctors to monitor patients' progress without prolonging hospitalization or requiring unnecessary visits to the office.
"Because the calls are actually made by a computer, the program provides a very efficient and economical way for a physician to keep in touch with patients," Babbs says. "Doctors can easily personalize the service to meet the individual needs of the patient or a particular type of illness."
The software program has been used in pilot studies to track heart patients in Lafayette, Ind., and to monitor women undergoing high-risk pregnancies in Philadelphia. This summer, the program was expanded to include heart patients in Indianapolis taking anticoagulant medication, also known as "blood thinners."
The phone calls range from one to three minutes in time, and a computer-synthesized voice asks patients to respond to several questions. For example, a call to a heart patient may include questions to see if the patient has experienced any recent chest pain, fatigue or drowsiness. Patients may also be asked to enter information on their weight and pulse rate.
The computer program holds promise for a number of applications, Babbs says. For example hospitals might use the service when they dismiss patients after a surgery or illness.
"Instead of having a patient spend several hundred dollars a day to recuperate in a hospital room, doctors can monitor how well the patient is doing by calling him on a regular basis," Babbs says.
Physicians in a group practice who want to monitor a patient's illness could also use the program. "The program is so easy to use that doctors can set it up to make calls as often as necessary, whether it is daily or one or two times a week. If a patient has just experienced an injury or surgery, the doctor might even want to check on the patient several times a day."
Monitoring the program can be done by a single worker at the physician's office or by an outside company, Babbs says.
"A business could easily be established to monitor calls of this type for physicians around the nation because the people monitoring the calls do not have to be in the same vicinity as the patient," Babbs says.
The Purdue group has copyrighted the program and plans to market it after further tests are done.
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