Bringing Telemedicine to Puerto Rico: New York Hospital Steps Up

Simply put, since Hurricane Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the storm’s impact on the island has been nothing short of devastating. Along with leaving numerous residents without water and power, it has left many of the island’s hospitals with extremely limited resources as they work to treat the patients who depend on them, some of whom are facing new health challenges. But thanks to the efforts of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, telemedicine has been helping connect Puerto Rican patients with much-needed specialty care—often a particular challenge after a natural disaster—as the island continues to recover. As Healthcare IT News highlights in a recent profile, an emergency team of providers from the hospital has been working on the island “to deliver specialist and sub-specialist care in ways that emergency teams simply cannot without the tools.”

The team of physicians arrived on the island on October 27, and has been utilizing telemedicine to connect Puerto Rican patients with their colleagues back in New York. Healthcare IT News highlights the case of a young diabetic patient whose blood sugar was dangerously high; the team on the ground connected the patient and his mother with pediatric endocrinologists back in New York for a successful live consultation. “Being able to see the child, and assess his behavior, his level of comfort and hydrated state, and his well appearance, was a priceless aspect of this evaluation, as a simple phone discussion could not have provided this critical information that helped to guide his care,” Dr. Shari Platt, NewYork-Presbyterian’s chief of pediatric emergency medicine, told Healthcare IT News, noting also that the live consult “offered a powerful connection and an intangible sense of trust and faith in our care.” While telemedicine is only one small part of the recovery process for Puerto Rico and its health care system, the NewYork-Presbyterian team sees their work on the island as clear evidence of just how valuable telemedicine can be following natural disasters. “What we can say is that as a result of our time providing aid in Puerto Rico, we know now that we can still provide access to general and sub-specialty care that can adequately address chronic conditions such as diabetes and dermatological care for certain skin reactions that occur during times like this and especially when the patients might not have access,” Dr. Rahul Sharma, who serves as the hospital’s emergency physician-in-chief, told Healthcare IT News.

NewYork-Presbyterian isn’t the only health care organization that’s been exploring creative ways to bring health care to those in hurricane-stricken areas in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In the wake of Harvey in Texas, Dallas-based Children’s Health set up pediatric telemedicine consults for displaced patients in shelters, and companies like American Well, Doctor on Demand, and MDLive have offered free remote consults to patients in affected areas. Nemours Children’s Health System, too, offered visits free of charge to families impacted by the hurricanes through its CareConnect system. “Children do not wait for the storm to pass and the roads to clear to get sick,” said Carey Officer, Nemours’ telehealth administrator, in a statement in September. “It can happen at any time.”

Click here to read the Healthcare IT News article on NewYork-Presbyterian’s work in Puerto Rico.

Click here to read more about the ongoing challenges hospitals in Puerto Rico are facing from the Atlantic.

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