Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Clogged arteries? Try a GPS

Devices help home nurses find ways around metro area’s traffic tieups

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Sunny Choi, an Adventist Home Health nurse who visits patients at their homes, shows the global positioning system the company provided her to help navigate the area's traffic jams.
The accompanying photo information was corrected on Aug. 22 from its print version.

Getting lost while driving is less likely now for clinicians at Adventist Home Health, thanks to a new cost-sharing program for global positioning systems the company now offers to its employees.

Last April, Sunny Choi, 56, came to work as a home nurse at Adventist Home Health in Silver Spring after more than 30 years of working in hospitals.

As a field nurse, Choi had to drive to the homes of up to eight patients a day all across Montgomery County, and she often found herself getting lost or bogged down in traffic.

‘‘I had a difficult time visiting patients,” Choi said. ‘‘I had to look at the map for each patient.”

During the week, she worked her own territory in Montgomery, but when she worked weekends, when no one was in the office to guide her, she had to go to appointments in Prince George’s, Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles counties as well.

‘‘On one weekend, I had an appointment in [Prince George’s] County and I drove all the way to Washington, D.C.,” she said.

At a meeting for newly hired employees last year, Choi proposed the idea of the company buying GPS systems for field workers and sharing the cost with them.

‘‘One day I asked my supervisor, ‘Why can’t I have a GPS?’” she said. ‘‘I had never heard of it, but another nurse told me about it.”

The company agreed and instituted a GPS cost-sharing program in February.

‘‘Prior to the GPS, we spent a lot of time Mapquesting and talking lost employees home,” said Maureen Graves, Adventist Home Health’s Silver Spring branch manager.

Laura Stafford, director of human resources, said that before instituting the system, the company would sometimes receive complaints from patients when nurses did not arrive on time.

‘‘You usually give them [patients] a time range, but there are those people who expect you to be on the dot,” Stafford said.

Since the new program has been implemented, Stafford said complaints are rare.

Choi said that’s because the GPS system has helped her cut down the time it takes to get to appointments.

‘‘You just have to set up what city and what address you want, and you’re ready to go,” Choi said. ‘‘I feel very confident to [get to] work. When they call me with a new assignment, I’ll say ‘Hey, no problem.’”

Stafford said that of the 136 nurses, physical therapists, social works, dieticians and other home care employees, 64 have participated in the cost-sharing program.

Each unit originally cost $317. Through the cost-sharing program, each employee pays $150. Now, including shipping, the cost of each unit is down to around $300, Stafford said. After one year, employees are eligible to own the unit.

‘‘Technology improves every day. The cost keeps going down,” Stafford said. ‘‘If it keeps going, we’ll be able to lower the costshare.”

Adventist doesn’t offer formal training for the systems, but they do come with instructions.

The model the company uses is the Garmin StreetPilot c330. Its features include touch-screen navigation, automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice prompted directions.

‘‘The more you use it and play around with it,” Stafford said, ‘‘the more you realize you can do.”