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A Doctor’s Just A Video Conference Call Away With This Portable Cart

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA
Steven Handler, chief medical and innovation officer at Curavi, stands with the CuraviCart, which helps nurses assist nursing home patients without having to send them to the emergency room.

Nursing home residents who need extra care or specialized help after business hours are often sent to the emergency room. But as those visits can be expensive, disruptive and sometimes avoidable, a South Side company is offering another solution.

Curavi Health, which spun out of UPMC, created a mobile unit called CuraviCart that uses a video conference system, on-call doctors and other instruments a nursing home might need to help residents.

Steven Handler, Curavi’s chief medical and innovation officer, said in addition to a conference call camera, it has a wound camera, an otoscope that's used to look in the ears and a Bluetooth stethoscope.

“And that allows you to basically hear the heart, the lungs, abdominal sounds, perfectly,” Handler said, as he rummaged through the various drawers of the cart.

Handler said a video conference will never be as good as a face-to-face visit by a doctor, but the company’s focus for now is providing support after hours.

Larry Blitz, director of Wipfli Consultants, said the industry is increasingly looking for ways to improve quality of care while driving down costs. He said telemedicine could be part of the solution.

“Because the access will be more immediate, the decisions for that patient could be immediate,” Blitz said. “I think that always saves money and it always gives better care.”

Blitz said as more nursing homes and hospitals build narrow vertical networks this type of care could help keep as much of a patient’s limited insurance money within the system. It could also help to lower readmission rates and build customer satisfaction, both of which are important as consumers begin to shop around for medical care.

Traditionally, when the condition of a nursing home patient takes a turn for the worse a nurse either gets a doctor on the telephone, which has its limits, or the resident is transported to the hospital. That’s why Handler said Nurses must switch gears and think of conference calling first, to maximize Curavi’s system.

“Such that the technology, that I want to downplay frankly, is just the conduit, the vehicle between that distal site provider, that physician, the bed side nurse and who we’re really trying to serve, that resident that needs us in the middle of the night,” Handler said.

One Pittsburgh-area privately owned nursing home and all five UPMC-owned nursing homes use Curavi. Doctor consults are only available from 6 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. Handler said a 24-hour service is a possibility in the future as demand increases.

Facilities could also opt to use their own doctors and just use the cart full of tools and the HIPA-compliant communications system.

Curavi also bills a monthly flat fee, so that nurses are less hesitant to use it than they would be if the nursing homes were charged per-use.

Some rural nursing homes might be able to bill Medicare for the consults, but at this time most urban homes will not.

In this week's Tech Headlines:

  • Last month, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation awarded the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute $600,000 to help launch interdisciplinary projects to advance research on normal brain function and its impairment in a range of disorders. A total of five projects will be funded with the grant and another $325,000 in matching funds from internal sources. The projects address paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, adolescent substance use, obsessive compulsive disorder and brain computation. The funding also will support the growth of a Brain Bank to further research.
  • Google's search engine highlighted an inaccurate story claiming that President-elect Donald Trump won the popular vote in last week's election. The incorrect results were shown Monday in a two-day-old story posted on the pro-Trump "70 News" site. A link to the site appeared at or near the top of Google's influential rankings of relevant news stories for searches on the final election results. Google acknowledged the problem but the link remained prominent in its results for several hours.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.