Monday, May 17, 2004 - 6:08:47 AM PST
Dutch make online 'house calls'
Home patients make a Web cam connection, receive treatment and cut medical costs
By Anthony Deutsch, Associated Press
ZUTPHEN, Netherlands -- Bert Ooms raised his 80-year-old body in bed, adjusted his catheter, and clicked his television remote control to set up a Web cam connection.
That put him face-to-face with the Clemence Ross-Van Dorp, the Dutch junior minister for health who was inaugurating a new health care tool.
Now, if needed, a nurse will be on the other end of the live audio and video link, which is part of a trial involving 700 home-care patients.
Confronted by a rapidly aging population and soaring health care costs, the Netherlands' government set aside subsidies last year to stimulate innovations in the health sector and find ways to cut spending.
The CamCare pilot project is intended to provide people confined to their homes by ailments to get medical advise without the expense of having a health worker visit them in person.
The test will run for three years in the eastern Dutch province of Gelderland and cost around $6 million, split between the government and two Dutch health care providers, Amicon and Sensire.
Ross-Van Dorp says the portion of the Dutch population aged 65 years or older will nearly double from 13 percent today to 25 percent by 2020. As a result, collective health care costs are expected to double, too.
Those projections have forced insurers to hike premiums and the government to scale back the country's once generous health care system.
Among services and medications recently scrapped from the standard health care package are the birth control pill and subsidies for home-care patients like Ooms.
The CamCare service, designed for patients who can no longer care for themselves and need professional medical attention, will be free during the trial. It is unclear how much it will cost later, but Sensire hopes to provide the service for under $24 a month.
"It's easy to use. I'm just going a little deaf," Ooms says. And he finds it reassuring to have a nurse within a moment's reach.
Ooms can connect to a clinic whenever he feels unwell with a push of a single button. His medical records appear on the nurse's screen at the same time. After a series of questions, the nurse decides whether to dispatch help or tell him what he needs to do.
"This will make it easier to decide if a nurse is needed onsite," says Rolf Striekwold, head of research and development at Sensire, which operates the online call center.
"Hopefully this will lead to a reduction in the number of home visits and the costs."
Hedwig van der Slegt, a nurse who has cared for Ooms since 2002, says Ooms used to phone a couple of times a day. "On the telephone it is hard to decide if someone needs to go by the house."
Ooms hopes CamCare will enable him to remain at home with his wife of nearly 55 years, Tilly, instead of going to an old-age home. A stroke has left him half paralyzed, with serious blood circulation and lung problems.
The technology isn't new, but its application is.
The connection is established easily using a television set-top box and an ISDN phone line, which has about twice the speed of a regular analog dial-up connection.
A picture is transmitted from a Web cam mounted on top of the patient's TV to a computer at the nursing center. A video image of the nurse appears on the patient's TV, with the nurse's name on the screen.
During a reporter's visit, the picture was good enough to make out facial expressions and read the label on a box of medicine, although it was not as clear as video sent over high-speed broadband Internet.
"I think we can say the trial was successful," says Ross-Van Dorp. "I'd like to offer this to people across the country."