Telehealth gives Miami docs global reach

'We don't need a lot of space to take care of a lot of patients.'
By Eric Wicklund
10:37 AM

From a high-tech command center at Miami Children's Hospital, doctors can diagnose and treat patients in a small Peruvian village, a mall in the Ukraine or a cruise ship sailing the Atlantic, among many distant and diverse locations.

"The only thing our physicians can't do today is touch the patient," says Ed Martinez, the hospital's CIO.

Martinez, a 2012 CHIME Innovator of the Year Award winner, offered a virtual tour of the hospital's telehealth center during last week's HIMSS 14 Conference and Exhibition in Orlando. His tour outlined the potential of telehealth to deliver care whenever and wherever needed, empowering local physicians with collaborative care and avoiding thousands – if not millions – of dollars in transportation and other critical care costs.

And while the distant locations may seem exotic, it's worth noting that MCH boasts a staff of some 650 clinicians, many of them specialists. That makes the telehealth center just as important to the hospital's home state, where some children live 200 to 300 miles from the nearest specialist.

With officials from a Colorado children's hospital and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in attendance, Martinez led a tour of the center and its MCH Anywhere program via iPad, communicating with Bill Manzie, the center's director. The center, equipped with glass walls that can be rendered opaque within seconds, features several "pods," or workstations equipped with three video monitors, a headset and a digital stethoscope. One monitor allows for communication with a doctor on-site, while the second enables consults with others and the third provides access to the electronic medical record.

[See also: Mobile clinic aims to help Miami kids.]

At its busiest times, the center can care for hundreds of patients a day, Martinez pointed out. In the case of a natural disaster or government emergency (the center recently held a tour for a number of four- and five-star generals), the room can be shut off from the rest of the hospital and serve as a self-contained emergency command center.

"We don't need a lot of space to take care of a lot of patients," Martinez said.

To facilitate the telehealth connection, MCH deploys a portable workstation that includes a high-definition video camera with two-way conferencing and several devices, including an otoscope, stethoscope, dermascope, ultrasound and lab units. MCH is also partnering with HealthSpot to integrate with HealthSpot Station kiosks in remote sections of Florida and across the Caribbean. And the hospital is working to establish a second command center in Costa Rica as part of a hub-and-spoke model.

[See also: UPMC to consult in Afghanistan.]

Recognizing that not all emergencies can be solved via telehealth, the 650-staff hospital also owns two trauma helicopters and a pair of Lear jets. 'Part of the benefit (of telehealth) is we're trying to avoid" using those aircraft, Martinez said.