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Study: Telemedicine Helps Small Hospitals Reduce NICU Transports

A Mayo Clinic study focusing on complicated births finds that a telemedicine link to NICU specialists can help small hospitals reduce patient transports by 30 percent.

By Eric Wicklund

- In yet another example of how telemedicine helps small hospitals hold onto their patients, a Mayo Clinic study found that online access to specialists helped one of every three complicated births avoid a transfer to a larger hospital with an NICU.

"The enhanced access to neonatologists, who could remotely assess the newborn and guide the local care team through the resuscitation, allowed one-third of the babies to stay with their families in the local hospital," Jennifer Fang, MD, a Mayo Clinic fellow in neonatal-perinatal medicine, says in a release issued by the Mayo Clinic. "This allowed the patients to receive the correct level of care in the right location - increasing the value of care. Also, the potential cost savings can be substantial."

Fang led the 20-month study, which was recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. She and her team of seven clinicians analyzed 84 births at six hospitals that were aided by telemedicine access to neonatologists.

"Following a complicated delivery, a newborn's outcome is associated with the quality of care provided during the first minutes of life," she said. "Because of this reason, it is critical to understand how telemedicine can be used to positively impact those outcomes."

Fang also credited the study’s positive results to the collaboration between local care teams and specialists.

"Other research has shown that teamwork and communication are critical during neonatal emergencies. We wanted to assess how telemedicine affected teamwork and communication," she said. "These results speak to the acceptability and clinical impact of this type of telemedicine project in community hospitals.”

The research adds to the argument that a small or rural hospitals with a telemedicine platform can treat more patients in-house rather than transferring them to a larger hospital, an expensive process that takes time, interferes with treatment and hinders the hospital’s efforts to provide quality care in the community.

The telemedicine platform has also proven quite valuable in pediatric and neonatal care, extending the reach of a sub-specialty whose members are few and far between in the U.S., usually limited to the largest hospitals in urban settings.

And even in the NICUs themselves, hospitals are using the technology. One Texas health system has set up a video consult system to give its pediatricians an instant link to a rural hospital, allowing them to consult on newborn health issues no matter where the child is located in the hospital.

An mHealth startup called NeoCare Solutions, meanwhile, has created a telehealth platform that uses trained healthcare specialists as a go-between for parents and their infants in an NICU. The specialist “coaches” parents following the birth and up to the child’s first birthday and works with NICU staff to answer any questions and provide updates. 

Dig Deeper:

Study: Telemedicine Works Fine in Diagnosing Sick Children

Taking Telehealth to Rural America

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