For infants born prematurely or facing other serious health problems, access to timely, high-quality health care can mean the difference between life and death. And for those living in rural, undeserved communities, those health care services can be difficult to come by. But as new research—the first of its kind—from the Mayo Clinic shows, the use of telemedicine in neonatal units can go a long way toward saving money and eliminating transfers to larger hospitals. As Managed Care Magazine first reported, Mayo researchers studied the effectiveness of emergency telemedicine consultations for newborn resuscitation, with mostly positive results. “Telemedicine consultation for neonatal resuscitation improves patient access to neonatology expertise and prevents unnecessary transfers to a higher level of care,” they stated.
Published in the December 2016 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the study summarized the results of 84 remote neonatal consults that connected the clinic’s providers, via video, with clinicians in remote hospitals. The infants being treated were all deemed “high risk,” with health challenges ranging from prematurity to respiratory issues to “need for advanced resuscitation.” Of those who received remote consults, a third were able to remain in their local hospitals, eliminating the need for a transfer to a larger, better-equipped institution. Remaining in these local facilities, per the researchers, also saved money, given that transfers tend to cost between $12,000 and $25,000 each. What’s more, local providers gave the consults high marks, with an overwhelming 93 percent reporting a positive impact on “patient safety, quality of care, or both.”
No technology is perfect, however, and Mayo’s researchers identified several areas for improvement. Many remote providers reported technical difficulties when surveyed afterward, with most issues relating to connectivity (many, for example, experienced time delays), equipment (i.e., poor video quality), and bandwidth. Yet ultimately, the researchers see tremendous potential for telemedicine among this particularly challenging patient group. “With the appropriate telemedicine technologies, high levels of agreement between remote physicians can be achieved on multiple physical examination findings, including genetic and neurologic examinations,” they concluded.