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.”