September 22, 2023

Senior living community director says telehealth provided by ASU has improved lives

The last line of Arizona State University’s charter reads: "assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves."

The overall health of the communities it serves. That ethos — and responsibility — is taken seriously by ASU, as evidenced by the myriad telehealth options offered across the university.

Like The Design School working with residents of a low-income senior-living facility in Glendale, Arizona.

Or the Luminosity Lab providing easier Zoom access for children and their parents at Phoenix Children’s.

Or students in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation being taught how to more effectively treat patients through telehealth.

“The impact and effectiveness of medical care is only as good as access to the care,” said Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president for ASU Health, Counseling and Wellness. “Much of the gaps in health equity locally and globally are related to inequity of access. … ASU’s commitment to providing world-class care and ensuring it is accessible is critical in closing those health equity gaps.”

Here are three examples of how ASU is providing telehealth care to Valley communities.

The Design School

It was four years ago that Eric Luster, an ASU alumnus who is president and chairman of the board of directors at Waymark Gardens, a low-income senior-living community in Glendale, called a town hall among the residents to see what was troubling them.

One of the main issues: a lack of transportation, which precluded them from getting consistent, quality medical care.

“Our residents were saying that every time they have to go for a 15- to 20-minute appointment, it’s a three- to four-hour event for them,” Luster said.

Today, that’s no longer a concern. Waymark Gardens’ residents now have telehealth care available to them, thanks to the efforts of John Takamura Jr., an associate professor of industrial design in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

For the past three years, Takamura and graduate students in his DSC 501: Qualitative Research and Design class have worked with the residents at Waymark Gardens, asking questions about the difficulty of going to doctor’s appointments and what telehealth options would best serve them.

“We basically created this project where we would go in and research how to improve the living conditions of the residents,” Takamura said. “Because a lot of the residents are low-income, they don’t have cars. Or they don’t drive. So telemedicine was definitely an answer for them.”

One of the challenges was devising a telehealth option that considered the fact that many of the residents struggled with technology and/or couldn’t see small screens. The result of their work: a telehealth room that includes a giant screen and easy, push-button navigation. There’s also a nurse on hand for things like blood pressure readings.

“We also have to really look at the residents’ needs and find out exactly what type of health issues they had,” Takamura said. “Some residents have emotional anxiety issues, especially after the pandemic. So what are the issues of having one-to-one telehealth therapy sessions with your anxiety, PTSD or whatever? The way telehealth service is actually implemented means a lot to these residents to make sure they’re happy.”

Starting in January, students in DSC 501 will be able to observe the Waymark Gardens’ residents as they use telemedicine. What they’ll see, Luster said, is a solution that has improved lives.

“This is huge for our residents,” Luster said. “We want them to feel comfortable. Many of our residents just want to check their blood pressure every day. Now this allows them to go and do this in the comfort of their own community.”

Luminosity Lab

It’s one thing to create telehealth options for adults. But what about children?

That was the challenge the Luminosity Lab, housed within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, took on when it partnered with Phoenix Children’s to try to come up with a more accessible telehealth experience for children at the hospital and their parents.

“We had to try to understand the problem that they were having and what was the issue, and then just trying to solve that,” said Jack Culbertson, who graduated in May 2022 from the W. P. Carey School of Business and was the lead on the project, called Check Up.

The project, which emerged from Zoom and ASU partnering to form the Zoom Innovation Lab, aimed to provide doctors the ability to virtually connect with patients in the in-patient room setting and create a hands-free interaction for the patient.

To do that, student industrial designers and software developers created an app that connected with the Amazon Fire TV in each patient’s room. Rather than a nurse having to bring a laptop into the room and sit with a child and his/her parents for a telehealth session, a ping from the TV alerts the patients that a telehealth meeting is about to start.

“The patient doesn’t have to do anything,” Culbertson said. “The patient’s just watching Netflix or YouTube, or you’re reading a book and the TV isn’t even turned on. It automatically sends a dinging sound, which means the doctor is going to join the meeting in 10 seconds.

“It will ask if the patient is ready, and the patient can click ready or hold on. Maybe they’re not dressed or something. Then, when they’re ready, the meeting starts.”

Phoenix Children's is planning to implement the app for its patients.

Edson College

Telehealth has been integrated into several of Edson College’s program tracks, including the adult gerontology (scientific study of old age) program, the mental health program and the nurse practitioner program, according to Diane Nuñez, clinical professor and director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Approximately 30 graduate students per semester take part in telehealth training.

“It’s a great opportunity that our students have to engage and learn the process, because that’s where medicine is right now,” Nuñez said.

Nursing students engage in practice telehealth sessions with actor "patients." The students are provided information as to the patient’s chief complaint, what they came in for and their “medical history.”

“So the simulation is really the engagement of, ‘How do you interview someone virtually?’ And then, ‘How do you navigate that sort of thing when the patient says they have a sore throat and normally, in a clinic, you would examine the throat?’” Nuñez said. “So there’s different ways in which we help coach the students on what are the limited examination components in a telehealth encounter.”

The students also are taught how to read body language — “A grimace can tell us a lot,” Nuñez said — and how to have a patient manipulate their camera so they can see the body part the patient is referring to.

Once the students receive their classroom telehealth training, they get simulation experience in a laboratory or the Grace Center’s simulation lab.

Nursing students can also receive telehealth training when they’re on rotation at ASU Health Services or at a Valley HonorHealth clinic.

Nuñez said training student nurses in telehealth is particularly vital if they wind up working in rural settings.

 “When you have to drive 85 miles one way to go see a provider, you’re not going to go very often,” Nuñez said. “Then you have lower quality of care and fewer opportunities for care. That’s when this training becomes absolutely imperative.”

Top photo by iStock

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News