How telemedicine is revolutionizing pediatric care in rural communities

Feb 13, 2017 / Telemedicine success /
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In some of the most rural corners of the country, telemedicine technology is being used to connect children with health professionals in a way that increases access and minimizes cost. Already this trend has shown great promise, as it addresses some of the most pertinent issues in healthcare. For children, on-going care makes the need for convenient health services especially important, while a lack of emergency pediatric departments in many communities is cause for even greater concern.

The problem:
Healthcare infrastructure in the U.S. is predominantly clustered around metropolitan areas, and this is especially true for pediatric specialty groups. For families, simply visiting a doctor is a financial and logistical barrier. Arranging transportation depends on factors such as weather and traffic, and the cost of travel is heightened for families that may be driving an hour or more to receive care. In emergency situations, this problem is even more serious.

"Just 3 percent of pediatric critical care physicians work in rural areas."

Although 27 percent of all emergency room patients are children, just 3 percent of pediatric critical care physicians work in rural areas. More remote organizations often don't have the necessary supplies to treat patients, and critically ill patients who are transferred to a different facility historically have had worse health outcomes.

For some families, driving many miles for a checkup can be an annoyance or represent a difficult expense, but for the most vulnerable of pediatric patients, this lack of health infrastructure is a grave consideration.

The solution:
Many hospitals and other care centers have used telemedicine to make care more accessible to remote patients. Cellular and Bluetooth networks, cloud storage and cheaper, more mobile technology have helped to give providers a more convenient and affordable tool box when offering these services.

The Medical University of South Carolina's Pediatric Emergency and Critical Care Telemedicine Program is one successful example of how the technology is being employed to treat children. Rural emergency departments can use telemedicine to work with MUSC pediatric specialists at all hours of the day to improve care for remote patients and also facilitate any possible transfers. In offering high-level care in a rural facility, severely ill or injured patients get the best possible treatments in a convenient and affordable way.

At The Community Health Center of Branch County in Michigan, everyday health concerns that face school children are also being met using telemedicine technology. A student can walk to the nurse's office and with the use of telemedicine equipment, they can connect to a physician or mid-level practitioner. Using encounter management software, video conference, digital medical devices and a secure network, a child is examined and given a diagnosis without missing school.

Using a hub and spoke model, partnering schools work with the CHC, and students and their families can decide whether or not they want to sign up for these services. In 2016, there were 1,076 telemedicine encounters, and in a survey of students who have used these services, 100 percent reported being happy with the care they received, and 95.2 percent said it was as good as an in-person visit. This has coincided with a number of encouraging trends, from mitigating a rash outbreak to decreasing instances of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Both the MUSC and the CHC program were made financially possible because providing care with telemedicine is less expensive. A single nurse or doctor can treat a greater number of patients, yielding a return on an initial investment for equipment or IT support. Grant funding and salary support through new partnerships can also provide economic support. To learn more about how these organizations were able to successfully leverage telemedicine technology to treat young patients, please click here to watch the archived webinar on these programs.

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