Dream it, do it!

Emergency Medicine physician Dana Schinasi, MD, is enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by telemedicine. “I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg,” she says.

Today, a neurocritical care physician standing at a video monitor at Lurie Children’s conducts neurological assessments of children with suspected brain injuries far away. A cardiologist intently watches a child’s heart beating as an echocardiogram is administered in a remote location. Specialists tele-consult with physicians in Asia and Africa about critically ill children and surgeries. Lurie Children’s radiologists view live feeds of X-rays and MRIs from outlying trauma centers when fast response is critical. Telemedicine is bringing Lurie Children’s medical expertise to children throughout Illinois and around the world.

Telemedicine is the real-time exchange of medical information from one site to another through electronic communications to improve patients’ health. Among the nation’s top-ranked children’s hospitals, Lurie Children’s offers the greatest breadth of telemedicine services to assess, diagnose and treat patients. Currently, approximately 15 programs at 11 sites are already deployed or well into development.

“I think telemedicine is the wave of the future,” says Dana Schinasi, MD, an attending physician in pediatric emergency medicine. “We are extending the reach of Lurie Children’s specialized care to as many kids as possible, assisting other providers and making the most of the opportunity to educate parents and patients about their own care. I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.”

Virtual doctor visit

Lurie Children’s caregivers use a range of sophisticated technology platforms and several ancillary medical devices that protect patient data and are appropriate to the care being delivered. Lurie Children’s specialists employ an enhanced teleconferencing system to perform examinations and assessments. At the patient’s remote location, a bi-directional, high-definition camera is mounted on a telemedicine cart at the bedside, which can be equipped with diagnostic devices such as a digital stethoscope and video otoscope. At Lurie Children’s, caregivers view a high resolution video monitor to assess patient status. They have the ability to listen to heart and lung sounds, see the inner ear and ask questions of remote caregivers or the patient. Lurie Children’s physicians can zoom in, magnify or change the direction of the camera as needed.

Patients and families—increasingly from the tech-savvy millennial generation—easily adapt to using familiar devices like iPads and smartphones that allow Lurie Children’s caregivers to monitor patient status and provide follow-up care after hospitalization.

“We are dramatically changing the way our health care is delivered because we can manage our patients more closely and bring greater access to specialty care to children and teenagers throughout the world,” says Katie Bohling, Director of Telemedicine Programs. “Telemedicine also allows us to effectively manage more patients and avoid unnecessary and costly hospital admissions or readmissions.”

International reach

Physicians at Children’s Hospital of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan Province are connected to Lurie Children’s experts for diagnosis, monitoring and inpatient and outpatient consultations. Wide in clinical scope, the Tier I hospital is the largest pediatric hospital in China. With 2,200 patient beds, it is also an attractive research partner, and discussions are underway with the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s about joint research initiatives.

Endless possibilities

Telemedicine at Lurie Children’s has snowballed, and the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. And Lurie Children’s staff have no shortage of ideas. “We are completely capable of creating these applications—it’s just a matter of getting the equipment and setting up the programs,” says Bohling.

Imagine an eighth grader with a complex medical condition able to accompany his classmates on the annual class trip because telemedicine allows his specialists to monitor his condition. Or a family taking their ventilator-dependent baby home for the first time with real-time support as they transition to becoming primary caregivers. Or a teenager able to spend her final days at home because the hospital’s palliative care team has instant virtual access to support the patient and family with medication adjustments or answers to medical questions.

“Telemedicine will never replace the doctor’s visit, nor should it,” says Dr. Schinasi. “This simply allows us to care for more children in more settings and do more good as we support them through their illnesses. I can’t wait to see what telemedicine can do. If you dream it, you can do it! ”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Heroes magazine.