When the phone rings late one snowy afternoon in John Lescovich's home, he flips on a contraption and a cheery nurse from the Eddy Visiting Nurse Association in Troy, N.Y., pops up on the screen. ''I had two small slices of pizza today,'' he admits immediately. Lescovich, 59, knows he can't lie; she'll be checking his vital signs in a few minutes and may even ask him to dangle the camera over a scale to check his weight.
Facing a national nursing shortage and skyrocketing costs, a growing number of healthcare providers are using video monitoring to check in on patients. Operated through a phone line, ''home telecare'' devices are hooked up to stethoscopes and blood pressure and oxygen readers that transmit results to a remote station monitored by a nurse or doctor. The technology saves providers time and gets patients timely attention without ever having to leave their homes, advocates say.
Though there is little hard data tracking its growth, there is mounting evidence that home telecare is spreading quickly. The number of companies manufacturing home telecare devices in the last three years has tripled to 15 and the Veterans Affairs Department plans to double the number of patients it puts on home telecare to 20,000 over the next year, said Jonathan Linkous, executive director of the American Telemedicine Association.