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How St. Luke's checks in on coronavirus patients after they're released

Remote patient management allows patients to feel supported and monitored, while having 24/7 access to medical staff from home.

BOISE, Idaho — What happens after some COVID-19 patients leave the hospital? 

In most cases, they're still in the process of recovering and many of them need followups with doctors in the weeks that follow a hospital stay.

At St. Luke's Medical Center in Boise, hospital staff are keeping a close eye on their patients in a virtual manner, even after they go home.

Ken Miller can attest to that care. He tested positive for coronavirus during a round of chemotherapy and spent five days in the hospital.

"It's hard being in the hospital and the only way you get to see any family is by looking out the window in the parking lot, and it struck me that this allowed me to come home and be with my wife," Miller said.

The "this" he is referring to is St. Luke's Remote Patient Management or RPM. It's a program that utilizes technology to monitor, interact with and care for patients in their home.

Dr. Eric Rich is a pulmonary and critical care physician at St. Lukes. He's also the medical director for virtual care and telehealth.

"When patients are on RPM they perform daily scheduled health sessions via a tablet and medical grade peripheral devices that obtain vital signs," Rich said.

Using an iPad, patients also answer daily questions about how they're doing. Then that information is sent back to the medical staff at St. Luke's virtual care center.

"COVID presented unique challenges not only personally for all people, but medically," Rich said. "We needed something that allowed patients who were ill with this disease to be cared for in the home environment."

He added that RPM allows patients to feel supported and monitored, while having 24/7 access to medical staff, but it also helps serve one critical need.

"From the beginning we knew there could potentially be surges of large volumes of patients needing hospitalized care throughout the course of this pandemic and we thought that it is very important that we have the ability to safely discharge patients when they are ready to be discharged home," Rich said.

One day after Miller was released from the hospital, his recovery took a turn for the worse, but RPM caught it.

"It happened that my oxygen level was decreasing even though I was now on oxygen and the evaluation they made said you need to get back to the emergency room," Miller said.

He told KTVB he would never have known if he didn't have the guidance of the virtual medical staff.

"We really knew with COVID that we didn't want people to leave the hospital and then their only access back to medical care is through an emergency room," Rich said.

Miller spent an additional four days in the hospital the second time and used RPM for two weeks while recovering at home.

Both the hospital and Miller told KTVB that an additional benefit to RPM is a person's mental health. There's a lot of isolation involved when it comes to COVID-19 and being able to recover at home, while still being connected and monitored by the hospital, is something many of the patients appreciate.

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