Peter Kim is a sort of accidental convert to the world of telehealth.
Kim was about to start his labor-intensive medical residency—but he also wanted to continue his work as a community health coordinator with Harbor Health Home in Houston.
How could he do both?
Kim began to further explore how to use telehealth to better support low-income Latino families in accessing healthcare to treat and prevent illnesses across Houston and beyond.
Latinos Lack of Access to HealthCare
Peter Kim already knew that a lack of access is one of the main inequities that keep many Latinos from obtaining the best quality healthcare possible.
In Houston, Texas (43.86% Latino population), the nation’s fourth-largest city, many Latino, Asian, and low-income families struggle to manage chronic illnesses.
Chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease are among the top health concerns, according to a 2015 city health report. Health disparities exist due to Latinos’ socioeconomic struggles (poverty, lack of education), cultural barriers and stigmas, and language differences.
Kim said it was hard not to notice these local health burdens.
“I have some direct experience with this due to my family. My father is a neurologist and I would see direct neurological complications from diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, and strokes,” Kim said.
Born into the medical world and determined to make that his career, Kim wanted badly to help.
Merging Technology and Healthcare
Kim graduated from medical school in Mexico in 2009. After completing a year of clinical rotations at New York Medical College, before returning to Texas to take his exams.
After working for a year at a technology startup company in Austin, Texas, he returned to Houston with new knowledge about telehealth—thanks to a classmate—and he was eager to put it into play early in his career to tackle Houston’s health disparities.
He started as a physician and patient advocate at Del Cielo Telecare in Houston in 2015. He and his team used technology to connect the poorest patients to consistent communication with health professionals.
Kim moved on to Harbor Home Health in 2016, where he started used remote technology to remotely monitor high-risk patients with chronic health conditions.
“The LifeCareSolutions project had been in development since 2007 before it was acquired by Honeywell,” Kim explained. “
The system gives people voice-enabled tablets to monitor a patient’s heart rate, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and even weight. The devices are automated and connect to an on-call nurse if any alerts are triggered.
“The ideal candidates for the program are those with hypertension, heart failure, or COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease],” Kim said. “Because these were many of the problems that a lot of people in Houston were facing, I thought we could really help.”
Technology Saving & Changing Lives
“In my mind, these devices are no-brainers,” he said. “The problem was finding willing partners in the healthcare industry so we could develop a patient base. It got easier when the laws were changed that allowed for billing to be done through health insurance providers. Once that hurdle was overcome, my job was to find people and get these devices into their hands. I felt the Latino community in Houston would be the ones who could benefit the most.”
With the “blessing” of his superiors, Kim began contacting primary care facilities in the Houston area in the search for Latino patients who would be matches for the new technology.
“Nationwide, these devices are being used by over 80,000 patients on a daily basis,” Kim said. “Almost of these patients are Latinos. It just makes sense to get this technology into more hands that can use it.”
While Kim was making contacts, Harbor Home Health allocated funding to hire additional on call bilingual nurses that would be able to assist the new patients.
“The nurses are really essential to the process,” Kim said. “They are on-call 24 hours a day and can either be ‘reactive’ or ‘proactive.’ A patient can push a button on the device and be connected with them instantly or if a nurse notices something, like something on their vitals or a missed medication, they can contact the patient.”
Kim was successful in his “recruitment” of Latino patients, growing from less than 5 to close to 50 by the spring of 2017. As the technology has proven beneficial, and laws in Texas have been adjusted to accommodate telehealth, Kim anticipates even more growth in the coming months and years.
“Studies have found that Latinos have been quick adapters to technology as they are online more and more each year,” he said. “We have found with this technology, we are able to help our patients better manage their health conditions like never before. Part of it is having this device to streamline things and part of it is having someone who speaks their language ready to help them and answer questions almost instantaneously.
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This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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