Virtual medicine allows patients to receive specialized care even when they are in remote locations far from medical experts and care specialists. It may eliminate the need to transfer a highly fragile infant from one hospital to another and allow high-quality care to be made available to infants in rural or remote locations — particularly given the national shortage of neonatologists. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the Center of Fetal and Neonatal Medicine are developing and implementing a virtual neonatal intensive care unit (vNICU) structure to initially link two hospital sites. The long-term goal is to create a network of hospital NICUs across Southern California connected via telemedicine.
Telemedicine is shown to enhance care and health outcomes for adult patients. However, no data exist for the fragile neonatal patient population. With the support of the UniHealth Foundation, the Division of Neonatal Medicine is engaged in a multi-year study researching whether the use of telemedicine in a NICU environment results in care that is safe, effective, and provides the best standard of practice. The results of the first phase already indicate that the use of a remote-controlled, robotic telemedicine system in a NICU is feasible and safe. The technology is able to provide off-site neonatologists with direct visual and auditory information about the infant and the clinical issues in real-time in order to facilitate decision making.
Source: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (www.chla.org).