GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) – Every morning, Frances Ferraro takes her medication, eats a bowl of cereal and hops on the scale in her Greenwich living room by 10 a.m. for her daily vital signs reading.

Instead of a nurse checking her pulse, blood pressure, oxygen level and weight, a computer does it, asking her questions and recording information to transmit to a nurse at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care in Stamford.

The HomMed Genesis telemonitoring machine is tailored to track Ferraro’s medical concerns, mainly her weight and breathing. Ferraro, 83, who lives in Greenwich, suffers from a condition in which fluid builds in her ankles and legs and can spread to her lungs and heart, making it difficult to breathe and move.

The readings can alert telemonitoring coordinator Nicole Reynaud that Ferraro needs a home visit or that her doctor must be notified about changes in her health.

Reynaud receives and reviews more than a dozen patient printouts daily at her office on East Main Street in Stamford. The information is transmitted by a phone or wireless modem to Reynaud’s computer.

Reynaud visits patients using the machines each week for checkups and to answer questions.

“It’s all about continuity and communication,” Reynaud said.

The agency bought 31 telemonitoring machines in 2006 and hopes to double that number this year, said Stanley Ruszkowski, director of home health and clinical services.

The machines cost $4,000 to $8,000 each, depending on the make and model, and the type of daily assessments a patient needs, Ruszkowski said.

The machines are given to patients who were recently released from the hospital and need daily medical observation, such as those with high blood pressure, pneumonia, hypertension and heart problems.

Nursing homes and home health agencies nationwide are embracing the technology as a way to care for patients with chronic illnesses. The machines allow patients to maintain their independence while receiving health services in their homes.

Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care has machines in 23 homes, and offers the service for free.

“It’s the cost that the agency assumes in order to improve patient safety at home and clinical outcomes,” Ruszkowski said.

The machines decrease hospitalizations because patients are monitored daily, he said. The monitoring helps prevent the onset of disease and congestive heart failure, particularly in patients with respiratory and heart problems, because the machine catches symptoms quickly, Ruszkowski said.

Tracking patients remotely means fewer nurse visits, which frees them to aid other patients, Reynaud said.

“It’s like having a daily nurse there,” she said.

Ferraro said it’s comforting to know her health is monitored. It makes her more conscious of her own well-being, and more apt to watch what she eats and take her medication, she said.

“It helps me a lot and makes me feel good,” Ferraro said.

She started using her machine in November after she was discharged from a six-week hospital stay. Her live-in companion, Blossetta Samuels, helps her get on the scale and put on the blood pressure cuff.

The telemonitor talks to her, saying “good morning” and asking five yes or no questions that include, “Are you having difficult breathing?” and “Are your ankles swollen?”

The whole process takes about 10 minutes, providing just enough downtime before Ferraro tunes in to her favorite soap, “One Life to Live.”

“It works good, and I feel good using it,” she said.

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