Telemedicine and Obstetrics: How Specialists Are Using Technology to Help Patients
Telemedicine is revolutionizing access to advanced healthcare in rural cities. Telemedicine is defined as the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunication technology. The system breaks down distance barriers by connecting professional physicians with patients all over the country via electronic communication systems. The implementation of telemedicine in rural healthcare locations can mean a vast improvement in areas with few specialty physicians.
How It Works
The use of high definition cameras and monitors can place specialists at the bedsides of patients, which allow patients to speak with specialists from wherever they are. Doctors can monitor the equipment in the room and the patient’s vital signs, as well as look into their eyes or mouth via a handheld camera controlled by the physician facilitating communication on the other side. Electronic stethoscopes allow physicians to hear from a distance everything that the on-site physician can hear in person. Through health information technology (a close ally of telemedicine) a patient’s x-rays, lab results, and other information can be shared through laptops to further establish the doctor-patient relationship.
Telemedicine and Obstetrics
The Medical University of South Carolina is one of 3,500 U.S. service sites using telemedicine to reach out to and assist patients in rural hospitals that lack pediatricians, obstetricians, and other specialty doctors. MUSC uses resources that hospitals in certain locations may not have access to. According to Scott Sullivan, M.D., the director of MUSC’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, telemedicine has been able to reduce extreme premature birth rate, the neonatal death rate, and the maternal death rate. The program helps women who, for whatever reason, are unable to travel to MUSC for treatment.
“We’ve shown a positive health impact and decreased costs overall,” Sullivan said of the program. The high-risk telemedicine program, which started out seeing five to 10 patients a week, has reached out to hospitals in Florence, Georgetown, Hilton Head, Bluffton and other South Carolina cities. The program now sees 40 patients a week and continues to grow.
Telemedicine in Other Fields
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) also uses telemedicine for emergency situations and pediatric care. “97% of pediatric critical care specialists are in urban areas, but 27% of visits to community emergency departments are children,” says MUSC Pediatric Critical Care Specialist, Dr. David McSwain. “There is a major mismatch between the patients that come into emergency departments in the community and the specialty services available to handle those children.”
The pediatric specialists at MUSC can be contacted twenty-four hours a day, 7 days a week. Physicians at MUSC often provide council to physicians in rural hospitals through seminars and discussion groups. This education process helps rural physicians learn how to determine in the future whether children facing emergency situations can be handled in their community hospitals or if specialists need to be consulted.
Telemedicine is not limited to hospital communication systems. Monitoring links can also be installed in homes for people can’t travel to local hospitals. The monitoring link is used to monitor cardiac, pulmonary or fetal issues via a land-line or wireless connection. Mobile devices can also be used for immediate patient-to-physician contact.
Conclusion – Why It Matters
Telemedicine is redefining healthcare and obstetrics for people who aren’t close to big hospitals. It simultaneously makes access to physician assistance convenient for patients and allows physicians to expand their reach beyond their workplaces. High-risk pregnancy specialist Dr. Gilbert Webb says telemedicine has enabled expectant mothers who live in rural areas to stay in contact with their doctors without having to travel for consultation. This technology also decreases costs of healthcare, giving access to those who can’t afford treatment. The practice of telemedicine has progressed immensely over the past few decades and will continue to grow as technology develops, thus revolutionizing healthcare options for people in small cities across the country.
About the Author: Marlena Stoddard is a freelance writer who received her BA from University of Georgia.
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