By Linda Kor —
Living in rural Arizona has many advantages, but close proximity to health care is generally not one of them. For many individuals struggling with chronic disease, a routine trip to their physician can take an entire day and be costly. With such distances, many people wait until their illness forces them to the hospital, result-ing in the possibility of a stay that could last days or weeks.
One of these individuals was Winslow resident Garrickson Begay, who has been dealing with chronic ill-ness for the past year. In April 2011, Begay went in for routine surgery and developed Septicemia, a condition that caused him to go into a coma for nearly three weeks. The strain on his heart from the event and the reten-tion of fluids left him with both chronic heart and kidney disease. As a result, Begay found himself making recurring trips to the emergency room that were very costly, as he would need to be flown by helicopter to Flagstaff Medical Center for each incident, which could occur as often as three times a month.
In January, Begay’s life began to change. He was enrolled in a new ground-breaking program at FMC called Care Beyond Walls and Wires. FMC has worked in collaboration with Qualcomm Incorporated through its Wireless Reach initiative, Zephyr Technology and Verizon Wireless, to create the program which uses ad-vanced 3G wireless technology and health-monitoring devices to enhance the care of patients with congestive heart failure or other related conditions.
Care Beyond Walls and Wires uses wireless broadband tools, such as smart phones and 3G technology, to allow in-home daily monitoring of patients with chronic disease at a cost of about $1,000 per patient. These tools will collect and transfer critical data, such as weight, blood pressure, activity and other important health indicators, to nurses at FMC who are following patients enrolled in the program. This daily exchange of in-formation enables healthcare providers and patients to work together to manage disease. With the technology, healthcare professionals can detect a decline in a patient’s health status early and intervene immediately, help-ing to reduce unnecessary travel, physician office visits, costs and readmission to a hospital.
The far-reaching wireless capabilities of this program are especially important to the Native American population living in outlying areas where landline phones may not be available. Some have limited access to electricity and running water, and finding transportation to see a physician on a regular basis can be challeng-ing. This program provides all the equipment necessary, including a solar battery pack for areas without elec-tricity. Due to the efforts of their partners, most areas on the Navajo Nation are now within a five minute drive of wireless Internet if it’s not available at home.
Since becoming enrolled in the program, Begay has begun to feel that he has some control over his health and his life. “At one point in time I just wanted to give up. Now I feel like I can make plans for myself like go back to work and live on my own someday. It’ll take awhile, but that’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.
Since enrolling in the program, Begay, who is 37, has lost significant weight and now pays attention to his diet. If there is a change in his results on a given day, his nurse, Kelly Degraff, contacts him and determines what changes have taken place, and whether he needs a medication adjustment or a doctor’s visit. “She facili-tates my doctor visits, and when I get there they already have my readings in front of them. I don’t have to keep repeating the same story to each of my doctors,” he commented.
Although Begay still struggles with his health issues, he has not been to a hospital for the past four months and has been able to reduce the dosages of the medications that he has been taking. He has also reduced the cost of doctor visits, time spent and travel expenses, including fuel costs.
FMC is seeking an additional 50 people to enroll in the program. Those interested in taking part in Care Beyond Walls and Wires should contact their physician for a referral to the program.