Neonatal Telehealth: How It Has Improved and Transformed Neonatal Health
How Neonatal Telehealth Can Reduce Costs and Benefit Mother and Child
Giving birth can be extremely stressful for some mothers, especially when they lack access to neonatal care. According to recent statistics, around 10% of babies born in the United States are considered preterm. 8.6% of all babies have a low birthweight, 20% of all infant deaths are due to a birth defect, and around 14.5% of all mothers do not receive any neonatal care.
Many birthing facilities do not have access to on-site neonatal care. If the infant needs urgent medical care, providers may have to wait for a transport team to arrive on the scene to stabilize the child. Many providers may also transport infants to a local specialist unnecessarily, raising costs, and adding stress to both the mother and child.
Instead of waiting for in-person assistance or transporting newborns to neonatal facilities, some providers may be able to use neonatal telehealth instead. Providers will be able to remotely consult with neonatal specialists using live video and audio, giving them immediate access to the expertise they need to stabilize and care for the infant.
The Stress of Neonatal Care
Neonatal care is considered one of the most sensitive areas of healthcare. If on-site providers do not have access to neonatal care specialists, they will likely need to wait until additional help arrives. A local transport team will rush to the birthing facility to help stabilize the infant, and the infant and mother will then need to be transported to a local neonatal care facility if additional assistance is required.
Many geographic areas lack access to high-quality neonatal care. Mothers living in rural areas may give birth at a local hospital, only to discover they must travel hundreds of miles to the closest neonatal care center. They may be far away from family and friends during a difficult time.
For a new mother, nothing could be scarier than being separated from their child and leaving them in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Transporting infants to another facility and separating mother and child should be avoided if possible, to allow for mother-baby bonding, reduce the cost of care, and improve the patient experience.
Finding a Feasible Solution
Instead of sending preterm infants and new mothers to neonatal care centers, on-site providers can use neonatal telehealth to remotely consult with specialists in real-time. If the on-site provider does not know what’s wrong with the infant or how to stabilize them, they can contact a neonatal provider for immediate assistance. The neonatal care specialist can then use live video and audio to assess the infant while relaying treatment information to the on-site provider.
On-site providers can use this technology to quickly stabilize preterm infants instead of waiting for the transport team to arrive. Every second counts when it comes to saving the life of a newborn. Having immediate access to specialty care can help providers save more preterm infants in the moment.
In many cases, providers will be able to stabilize the infant on their own using virtual neonatology, so the infant and mother do not have to travel to another facility. This reduces the overall cost of care and helps the mother and infant stay close to home.
Our Partnership with SSM Health
At InTouch Health, we partnered with SSM Health, one of the largest Catholic healthcare systems in the country, to create a signature neonatal telehealth program. With 65 neonatal ICU beds, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital was looking for a way to increase access to neonatal specialty care throughout the St. Louis, MO area. This would reduce the number of nursery transfers, many of which may have been medically unnecessary, and keep new mothers closer to home.
In order for this new neonatal telehealth program to be a success, on-site providers needed to be able to remotely share ultrasounds and sonograms with neonatal specialists. Live video and audio also needed to replicate the in-person experience as closely as possible to improve on-site care. As a result of the virtual care program, neonatal providers are able to assess preterm infants and their health defects remotely, so on-site providers can stabilize the child as quickly as possible.
Together, we were able to build an effective, highly dependable telehealth program that’s now being used across the Midwest. Since adopting the program, SSM Health has seen a dramatic drop in the number of neonatal ICU nursery transfers. To see the full results, download the case study.