When it comes to having a baby, every parent wants the same thing: a smooth birth and a healthy child. Some families, however, live in remote areas without access to neonatal intensive care units (NICU): If the birth proves difficult or the infant is in distress, parents are rendered helpless — and without the proper high-quality care — at the most critical time in their child’s life.

Luckily, the landscape of neonatal care is evolving fast. Now, select hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the United States are using telemedicine to connect rural doctors and pediatricians with the neonatology expertise to help ensure safe deliveries and thriving newborns.

Have you considered telemedicine for your unit? It might just be the advantage you need to hone your facility’s well-earned reputation and competitive edge.

What is Neonatology Telemedicine?

Each year, approximately 10% of newborns require breathing assistance and about 1% need extensive resuscitative measures to survive*.

Through innovative telemedicine software and electronic peripheral devices, major hospitals and health facilities are now offering “virtual clinics” for patients to receive a host of health services including psychiatric, gastrointestinal, speech and language therapy. Telemedicine has also paved the way for institutions to offer “e-consultations” for cardiology and neonatal patients.

“Telemedicine technology allows direct visual consultation between the local pediatrician and the neonatologist,” according to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “ This high-definition connection enables doctors to see a newborn’s color and breathing, and evaluate blood pressure,” thus ameliorating the symptoms of shock and other life-threatening events associated with childbirth.

Services provided via neonatology telemedicine

Telemedicine services are actually more comprehensive than many hiring managers may think. Here are a few:

  • More thorough patient assessments
  • Consults and assist with diagnosis
  • Review of CT scans, X-rays and laboratory results
  • Remote daily rounds
  • Educational opportunities

Telemedicine Success Stories

1. Children’s Medical Center

In the summer of 2013, Children’s Medical Center Dallas launched its first teleNICU partnership with a hospital in Tyler, Texas, more than 90 miles away. This way, the Dallas neonatologists could check vital signs and conduct an exam as if they were right there in Tyler.

“Should the neonate’s condition truly warrant a transfer to the Level IV NICU at Children’s, the experience is made more ideal due to the teleNICU connection,” according to Jeff Blythe, the organization’s information systems communications manager. “Parents will have ‘virtually’ met the UT neonatologists that will be caring for their baby at Children’s upon arrival.”

The telemedicine launch was so well-received, Children’s committed to expanding the program to 25 additional hospital locations over the ensuing years.

2. University of Virginia

Also in 2013, the University of Virginia launched the first neonatal telemedicine program in Virginia, providing secure video, audio and data links between Fauquier Hospital’s Family Birthing Center and their own NICU. Fauquier Hospital newborns and clinicians now have around-the-clock access to board-certified UVA neonatologists who specialize in caring for very small or ill infants.

“For infants born at Fauquier Hospital who need advanced care, this partnership will ensure they are evaluated and treated as soon as possible,” said Linda Sharkey, Fauquier Health’s vice president for patient care.

3. Rural facilities

A May 2016 a Medcity News article reported that the Mayo Clinic conducted a three-year study empowering telemedicine to save the lives of critically ill babies born at hospitals in rural, small, and low-income, urban communities.

Mayo provided neonatologist assistance to six participating neonatal hospital teams. Providers at these hospitals were often ill-equipped to handle newborn emergencies, and many provided an inconsistent level of care deviating from established guidelines.

Over the course of the study, Mayo neonatologists remotely provided telemedicine service for 77 separate cases. In more than half of these cases, guidance was offered in for airway management, chest compressions, medication dosages, thermoregulation, procedures, identification of congenital anomalies, and palliative care. In one instance, doctors were able to resuscitate twin girls born at 22 weeks.

Is telemedicine in your future?

Telemedicine is a booming industry in healthcare technology, delivering higher patient outcomes and improved family-centered care directly to underserved and isolated populations.  Through the use of video-based telemedicine, patients can undergo specialized procedures and exams without the undue stress of travel.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of nursing will continue its decade-long boom well into 2018. The competition to recruit the best and brightest neonatal nurses will be fierce; highly qualified and tech-savvy candidates will undoubtedly be drawn to those hospitals utilizing the most advanced tools of telemedicine.

Telemedicine offers improved health care and the promise to attract millennial nurses— well-known for their love of technology and commitment to making the world a better place. Perhaps now is the time to consider telemedicine for your facility.

For more information about neonatal telemedicine, contact us today.

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