Nurse Disrupted delivers telehealth to resource deserts with easy, all-in-one box kit

Bre Loughlin and Tracy Zvenyach have taken everything they learned while serving the homeless shelters and put it into a box.
Bre Loughlin on the screen
Photo courtesy of Nurse Disrupted
Bre Loughlin

When Nurse Disrupted’s Bre Loughlin and Tracy Zvenyach earned Madison Magazine’s Top Nurses Innovation Award in January, it was for their tremendous effort organizing COVID-19 screenings at Madison’s homeless shelters. To date, more than 200 volunteer nurses have conducted 16,000 screenings. That work continues, unplanned as it was — the women were “building the airplane in the air,” as Loughlin puts it — but they never expected where it would land them next.

Zvenyach and Loughlin have taken everything they learned while serving the shelters and put it into a box. The Care Station is an all-in-one, ready-to-ship kit that includes a digital tablet with lightweight stand and various hardware, software, security and connectivity components including ongoing tech support. The box weighs 7 pounds and brings telehealth to low-resource areas such as rural clinics that lack internet infrastructure; skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers; and prisons, schools and other resource-challenged organizations like the homeless shelters where it all began.

“This is an area in which no one has been able to crack this nut yet, because the hard-to-reach, underserved care locations don’t have the budget to bring in tens of thousands of dollars in sophisticated telehealth stations,” Zvenyach says, adding that The Care Station costs a fraction of that ($5,600 per kit, billable in some instances under Medicare and Medicaid). “We can meet that need. We can fill that gap.”

With 40 years of nursing experience between them, Loughlin and Zvenyach also have extensive backgrounds in tech development and public policy, respectively. But it was the lessons gleaned from working at the shelters that really drove home the idea that, first and foremost, The Care Station had to be simple. “In our first deployment I had locked those tablets down to four buttons, but it was three buttons too many,” says Loughlin, who previously developed products as an executive for Epic Systems Corp. Now you can touch anywhere on the screen and instantly connect, making the tablets accessible not only for people like Loughlin’s father-in-law, who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, but also for the 69% of U.S. adults who lack digital literacy, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation.

“I think people don’t realize what those tech literacy rates are,” says Loughlin. “That means there are 300,000-plus health care apps on the market and [nearly] 70% of our population actually can’t use them.”

That includes some health care providers, so the kits are designed to require little to no training. And should you call the Nurse Disrupted team for tech support, you’ll reach a U.S.-based expert specifically trained in compassionate response.

“We assume that care providers are in the 30% and that’s an incorrect assumption,” Loughlin says. “And it’s been a huge barrier to the adoption of health care technologies. There’s even a stigma to it. But it’s like, let’s stop being so judgy and actually look at who people are, and the way they interact with technology, and then create a simple experience so that patients are the focus — not the device. That should be invisible.”

The Care Station cost includes a secure connection using data instead of Wi-Fi, which may be spotty or even nonexistent in rural America. According to recent data from the Federal Communications Commission, between 21% and 25% of rural Wisconsinites lack access to fixed broadband connections, ranking the state 36th in the nation.

Imagine a scenario, then, in which a provider or patient could drive to a local clinic, tap a screen and securely connect with a therapist or specialist 200 miles away.

“Bre’s passion is filling the digital health care divide, and my passion is improving access to care,” says Zvenyach of her long-time friend, neighbor and, since the pandemic, business partner. “What we’ve successfully done during COVID [at the shelters] is those two things with The Care Station. So now [we’re] growing and scaling that to meet the needs of underserved populations for years to come.”

Maggie Ginsberg is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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