When two-year-old Cameron was brought into an emergency room near Boston in December of 2013, he wasn’t breathing. He’d aspirated a chocolate-covered pretzel which had broken into tiny pieces that were clogging his lungs.
“Cameron was one of the sickest patients I ever cared for as an emergency physician. I did everything I could within my scope of practice, but he needed the tools and expertise of pediatric subspecialists,” recalls the physician who treated him, Dr. Galina Lipton. He needed to be transported to a pediatric critical care unit, but a snowstorm raged outside, slowing the arrival of the transport team by hours.
Dr. Lipton used the ER’s real-time videoconferencing telemedicine service to consult with a pediatric specialist, Dr. Melody Duvall, to fine-tune the child’s ventilator settings while prepping him for transport. “It was almost like having her in the room with us. She could see the monitors, review changes in his condition and consult with all of the providers in the room… I did not need to act as a middle man and relay information to other members of the treatment team,” says Lipton. On her end, Duvall was assembling the people that would treat Cameron upon arrival at the critical care unit.
Three hours later, the boy was transported to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Critical Care Medicine, where a 40-member team of surgeons, nurses and specialists awaited. His condition was extremely critical, but thanks to Lipton and Duvall’s teamwork, the hospital was ready for Cameron, who underwent immediate surgery. After a few days in the ICU, Cameron had recovered completely and was home for Christmas.
It couldn’t have happened without today’s telehealth tools.
How telehealth works
Telehealth, or telemedicine, uses medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. It includes a growing number of applications and services that employ videoconferencing, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.
Some telehealth devices enable people to self-monitor their health and transmit a wide variety of data to their doctors and families. These new devices can include anything from wirelessly connected alarm pendants to heart rate or blood pressure monitors that are used to take regular readings which are relayed to a monitoring center by mobile phone.
Four ways telehealth benefits you:
1. You have greater access to specialist care: No matter how remote your location, Telehealth can put specialist care at your fingertips 24 hours a day, while enabling physicians and hospitals to extend their reach far beyond their own offices to provide consultations and support in geographically distant areas, potentially increasing service to millions.
2. Telehealth reduces your overall health costs: Telehealth reduces the cost of healthcare and increases efficiency by optimizing management of chronic diseases, sharing knowledge between health professionals, reducing or eliminating travel times, and enabling fewer or shorter hospital stays.
3. You’re quickly reassured thanks to faster, more precise diagnoses: Imagine you have a skin condition. Rather than going to a doctor or expensive specialist, you can simply take a picture of your symptoms and send it to an online dermatologist who can not only diagnose it, but send out treatment via your local pharmacy. And telehealth enables consultations between your practicing physician and any number of specialists.
4. You have more control over your health and your healthcare: Thanks to self-monitoring tools such as Fitbit, you can calculate your activity levels, count calories, manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and more.
In-person vs. virtual consultations
A recent study by Cisco found that 74% of consumers are open to virtual doctor visits. Their Global Customer Experience Report revealed that there’s an ongoing shift in consumer attitudes toward telehealth and sharing personal medical information.
The report findings challenged the assumption that face-to-face interaction is always the preferred health care experience. “While consumers still depend heavily on in person medical treatments, given a choice between virtual access to care and human contact, three quarters of patients and citizens would choose access to care and are comfortable with the use of technology for the clinician interaction”, states the report.
Obviously, the boy with the pretzel needed both in-person and virtual expertise. Thanks to telehealth, both were available.