A recent publication in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare sought to study the impact of a telemedicine presence in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for mild to moderate disease. The study was carried out in California at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles comparing twenty pairs of neonates, one under the care of an on-site neonatologist and the other under the care of an off-site neonatologist that used a remote controlled robot. The robo-doc allowed a remotely located neonatologist to examine patients, monitor vital signs, and carry a video and audio connection with on-site staff and parents.
One of the issues that many hospitals face, especially hospitals located in remote locations, is the difficulty of properly staffing a NICU. Hospitals often solve this problem by transferring patients to other facilities when they are in need of NICU care, but this study set out to look at the possibility of using an integrated team of in person staff and telemedicine providers.
The study looked at several different parameters that measure the effectiveness of the initiative: patient outcomes, staff and parental satisfaction, length of stay, and cost to the hospital. The results showed no significant difference between the neonates cared for by telemedicine providers or on-site providers.
The use of telemedicine providers to help staff NICUs holds promise for rural hospitals and developing countries. As the technology becomes more advanced and refined, it is exciting to think of the upshot of worried parents of newborns having immediate, easily accessible specialized care from anywhere in the world.