Texas hospital takes off with telehealth

Children's Medical Center in DallasChildren's Medical Center in Dallas (photo credit: Ben Dunham, Flickr)

'The new telecommunications allow you to take your most sophisticated people and be in multiple places.'

Telemedicine initiatives continue to gain momentum at hospitals nationwide, with many of them reporting marked success in improving patient access to care. The 595-bed Children's Medical Center in Dallas is the one of the latest hospitals to move forward on the telehealth front, with the launch of its TeleNICU, billed as Texas' first neonatal telemedicine program.
 
The new telehealth service, which utilizes broadband transmission, will provide physicians at distant-site hospital neonatal intensive care units with 24-hour access to trained, board-certified UT Southwestern neonatologists on Children's medical staff in order to consult on care for the region's tiniest and most fragile patients.
 
Participating hospitals will connect to the hospital through a mobile equipment cart that includes medical-quality videoconferencing, data transfer and digital scoping equipment. Officials say the medical center’s TeleNICU will be fully operational by the end of September. 
 
"As a Level-IV NICU and a major academic and research center, we have a responsibility to import and export best practices and share established protocols with other hospitals -- and telemedicine enables us to be available without the constraints of physical travel," said Rashmin Savani, MD, division director of neonatal-perinatal medicine at UT Southwestern and Children's, and professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, in a Sept. 17 news release. 
 
[See also: Utah NICU live with bedside cameras.]
 
Savani also pointed out that North Texas has a growing population with a climbing birthrate, in contrast to other parts of the country, and the demand for NICUs remains high due to premature deliveries and multiple births, among other factors.
 
"The TeleNICU will enable us to work collaboratively with our hospital and physician colleagues to deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right place," said Christopher J. Durovich, president and chief executive officer of Children's, in a news release.
 
Children’s Medical is far from the first to deploy telemedicine in the NICU. Other hospitals have been using the technology for years. 
 
Just this year, for instance, Intermountain Healthcare announced its NICU telehealth redesign at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, the effort spearheaded by Stephen Minton, MD, Intermountain neonatologist. Healthcare IT News caught up with Minton back in April to discuss the NICU redesign.
 
Each of the 65 NICU beds at the Provo, Utah-based hospital are equipped with three cameras, two fixed and one rotating, which will allow parents access to real-time live video of their baby 24 hours per day. This is big news for parents living in what one Provo physician bills the "fertility capital of the United States," where the birth rate stands tall at 85 births per 1,000 women -- the U.S. average is 54 per 1,000 women.
 
Throughout the day, Minton visits some 65 babies in the NICU, and often times he may not get to a specific baby for a long period of time, so parents either sit around waiting, or he'll call them via telephone. No more of that, he says. With a 24-hour video feed, Minton -- donning his own personal camera -- can verbalize a description of the baby on camera, which the parents can then access at any time. "When we communicate, we communicate not only with sound but with vision and people’s responses," said Minton. 
 
"The new Internet, the new telecommunications allow you to take your most sophisticated people and be in multiple places," said Minton. "It expands the performance of these people significantly."