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Shriners Hospitals to Test Telemedicine for Orthopedic Consults

Three hospitals in the national network will be deploying the technology next year to link children and their parents with orthopedic specialists. To test the connection, the hospitals recently scheduled video chats with Santa.

By Eric Wicklund

- Shriners hospitals in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Galveston, Texas, will launch a telemedicine pilot next year to connect children with orthopedic specialists.

The three hospitals will serve as hubs in the traditional “hub and spoke” telemedicine platform, officials said. Each will connect with regional sites, enabling the hospital’s orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal specialists to connect via video with children and their parents.

Kevin Martin, administrator for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, said the platform connecting his hospital with sites as far away as Phoenix, Idaho Falls and Rock Springs, Col., will save the system hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses, since the hospital pays for the child and a parent to travel for an appointment.

Martin said the health system chose orthopedics for its pilot project because of the scarcity of specialists in the country. He said Shriners is hoping to prove the value of telemedicine by making those specialists available by video consult to a larger number of patients.

Because of the complicated nature of orthopedic visits, each partner site will need a clinician on hand to guide the patient through an exam.

"We have to rely on a really good facilitator on the other end who know what the orthopedic surgeon wants to see and be an extension of their eyes and ears," he told the Deseret News.

To test the platform, the three Shriners hospitals recently connected some of their patients with another distant specialist – Santa Claus. Each hospital opened a video feed on Dec. 8 and 9 to the North Pole for patients and their parents who had come in for regularly scheduled appointments.

"Having Santa on the TV was a good thing," Sarah Kobryn, who’d brought her developmentally delayed 2-year-old son in for a speech therapy session at the Salt Lake City hospital, told the Deseret News. "I think he would have gotten a little freaked out if he would've sat on Santa's lap."

Nationally, children’s hospitals are among the leaders in adopting telemedicine services, owing to the difficulty of traveling to appointments for children and their parents and the limited numbers of pediatric doctors and specialists. Among the front-runners are the Boston Children’s Hospital, which has a particularly active mHealth innovation program, and Miami's Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, whose telemedicine department connects with hospitals and children around the world.

In Cleveland, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital is using telemedicine kiosks in neighborhood community centers to connect children and their parents with pediatric specialists after hours and on weekends. The kiosks are funded in part by a $12.7 million Healthcare Innovation Award from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid.

In California, UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento is in the midst of a three-year project to study telemedicine use in an emergency department. Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, the project is the first to measure the technology’s impact on clinical and financial outcomes for children. Their caregivers and children’s hospitals.


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