A group of West Virginia researchers believe telehealth nurse access may prevent health emergencies among discharged long-term care residents in rural areas. This fall, they are launching a pilot study to find out.

The investigation will enroll about 30 rural West Virginians who have recently left a facility such as a nursing home or an inpatient rehabilitation center. The plan is to see whether 24/7 telehealth nursing care can help stop the cascade of health events that often lead many former long-term care residents back to the emergency department or a post-acute setting, said researcher Steve Davis, Ph.D., of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. The pilot is being conducted in collaboration with the West Virginia Bureau of Medical Services.

Study participants will receive services through Medicaid’s “traumatic brain injury” or “aged and disabled” waiver programs. They will generally have a range of chronic conditions they must manage at home, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

Each patient will be trained to use health tools such as a scale; thermometer and devices to track glucose, blood oxygenation and blood pressure. The devices will transmit data to nurses 24/7. If any metric deviates from a healthy range or a patient falls, a nurse will be notified.

Telehealth may make a big difference in health outcomes for former LTC residents, Davis theorized. “… We believe that telehealth has not reached its widespread potential – especially in a rural environment,” he concluded.