Utah hospital NICU goes virtual, touts telemedicine redesign

Parents redesign department, 195 cameras come to bedsides
By Erin McCann
03:35 PM

For the first time ever, parents of newborns in a Provo, Utah-based neonatal intensive care unit can go to sleep side-by-side with their baby via a computer or mobile device, thanks to the endeavors of hospital officials who set out to transform department communication. 

The new NICU telehealth redesign at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, an Intermountain Healthcare hospital, is as much for the parents as it is for the physicians, officials say – if not more so. 
Each of the 65 NICU beds at the hospital will be equipped with three cameras, two fixed and one rotating, which will allow parents access to real-time, live video of their baby 24 hours a day. This is big news for parents living in what one Provo, Utah 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.
Spearheading the NICU redesign is Stephen Minton, MD, neonatologist at Intermountain Healthcare, who says putting the parents at the forefront of the idea process proves paramount. “When you get down to the nitty-gritty, the number one thing that people really want to do is recover being a parent of babies in the NICU (and) be participants in the kinds of care that take place,” Minton said in an interview with Healthcare IT News.
Sure, utilizing cutting-edge technology and medical equipment is valuable, but one cannot neglect myriad values of the human interaction dynamic, says Minton, who says too often technology has severed that human connection. When a newborn is transferred to the NICU, the last thing a parent wants is to feel disconnected in any way from their baby, adds Minton. So he set out to utilize telehealth in a way that incorporates parents as an integral piece in the care process. 
Minton says the telehealth technology also facilitates improved physician-parent communication. 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,” he adds. 
Minton says making communication a chief concern at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center has really done wonders for the care process with parents, and also with relationships fostered between physician and parent. Since 1979, back when he started the NICU unit, Minton has helped care for some 26,000 babies, all the while never being faced with a single lawsuit. It’s “really unusual in critical care medicine to go quite that long,” he says. “And the reason isn’t that I haven’t made mistakes. The reason is because I communicate with parents, and so they understand what you’re really trying to do. That’s really all what people want," he explains. "They want to be involved, and they want to feel like they have a voice and that you care." 
The NICU rebuild is currently under way at the medical center and is slated to go live within two months. 
Utah Valley Regional Medical Center joins a growing number of hospital NICUs nationwide installing bedside cameras. Some of the more recent hospitals to deploy the technology include Ochsner Medical Center back in summer 2012 and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas in January 2013. Bon Secours Richmond Health System was among the first in the nation to install cameras in the NICU, back in 2005.  

More regional news

CMS Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. Donald Rucker

Is synthetic data the key to healthcare clinical and business intelligence?

The open source synthetic data source, Synthea. (Diagram courtesy of The MITRE Corporation.)