Providing accessibility to specialist care so patients can deliver at their local hospital is one of the goals of the program. According to Lance, the project has had “tremendous success” in the area. “Normally, the outcome would be that they wouldn’t necessarily get the care they needed,” she says. “Most of these babies would probably have to be transported for delivery. The fact that they’re able to stay with their support system in their local hospital is amazing.’
Thinking beyond telemedicine
In addition to consults with specialists, the telemedicine tools also allow genetic counselors and diabetic educators to connect with patients. This eliminates the wait time between appointments with the counselor or educator, the specialist, and the referring obstetrician. It also eliminates the use of letters and phone calls to communicate a patient’s status.
“It’s the immediacy of bringing that genetic counselor in and having the doctor, the specialist, the patient, and the genetic counselor all talking about patient-centric issues wherever they may be,” says D’Lorio, who describes it as a “tremendous value proposition.”
Hometown obstetricians are also beginning to attend events and earn continuing medical education (CME) credits using the technology. “If you consider a physician in a little town, there may only be two obstetricians there,” says Lance. “This means they have to share calls for each other. It would be very difficult for them to get out to a conference in San Francisco to get the CMEs they need.”
STORC, recognizing the need for such education services, recently completed its first grand rounds across the network.
It brought a speaker to the ROC Chattanooga location and had both live and remote event participants. “We had about 11 different locations which were linked via the telemedicine connectivity,” says Lance. “They were watching real time. They were able to ask questions. They were able to get CME credit for it and it’s right there in their local area.”
Over the next year and a half, Lance says STORC will expand this program and hold events more frequently to help relationships between specialists and physicians.
Nurse practitioners have identified another possible application for the technology. They have suggested networking patients from several locations for an evening event where they could talk with one another about common concerns. Lance says it would allow patients who share diagnoses to realize they’re not alone.
According to Lance, some of the facilities may not have had any telemedicine services prior to the project. “It has opened a door for them to explore other ways they could apply this technology, and we’re helping them with that,” she says. For example, the Tullahoma site recently used its videoconferencing tools to connect an overseas military father with his wife’s hometown hospital so he could “attend’ the birth of his child.
“We see video communications really streamlining and changing the way a number of businesses do work,” says D’Lorio.