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Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics in Tyler, Texas, has become the first hospital system to link its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with expert UT Southwestern neonatologists staffing the innovative Children’s Medical Center TeleNICU program, the two hospitals announced today. The new telemedicine program enables physicians to collaborate on diagnosis and care for the tiniest, most seriously-ill babies, and it’s already helping to save precious lives.
Announced last month, Children’s Medical Center TeleNICU is the state’s first dedicated neonatal telemedicine program, utilizing specialized equipment and broadband transmission to allow two-way, real-time interactive communication between the highly specialized UT Southwestern neonatologists on staff at Children’s and distant-site hospital practitioners.
“We are delighted Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, a respected leader in adult and pediatric care statewide and in East Texas, is the inaugural TeleNICU affiliate,” said Doug Hock, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Children’s Medical Center.
“The TeleNICU program allows Children’s medical staff to efficiently share their expertise in the complex care of newborns and infants with neonatologists at Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler, which supports our mutual goal of continuously improving the quality of pediatric care,” said Hock.
Neonatologists and specialized neonatal nurses staffing the Level-III NICU at Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler can now connect to Children’s through a mobile equipment cart that includes medical-quality videoconferencing, secure data transfer and a specialized stethoscope and camera for the physical examination. Neonatologists in Tyler can use the Children’s TeleNICU service for a wide range of consults, including interpreting medical data and images, confirming diagnoses, and conferring on treatment plans.
UT Southwestern neonatologists at Children’s Level-IV NICU in Dallas are able to virtually examine newborns using specialized cameras and stethoscopes, and view and discuss medical tests with colleagues in real time. In some cases, TeleNICU consultation will eliminate the need for transport to another hospital, so newborns can remain in Tyler and avoid the stress of transfer and travel on fragile patients and their families.
According to Dr. Brenda Morris, neonatologist and medical director of the Trinity Mother Frances-Tyler NICU, telemedicine offers numerous potential benefits to patients, families and medical professionals. Morris has already used TeleNICU consults in four patient cases – one baby whose treatment plan was enhanced by discussion with neonatologists at Children’s but was able to stay in Tyler, and three infants who were transferred for surgical repair of complex congenital anomalies.
“From the attending physician’s perspective, a TeleNICU consult provides me with added confidence in my diagnosis, and added assurance that we have considered every possible treatment option,” said Morris.
She said telemedicine can assist her in making transport decisions for cases that require subspecialty surgery beyond the capabilities of the Level-III NICU at Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler. But she notes that one of the most promising and perhaps surprising benefits of the TeleNICU program has less to do with physicians interacting with one another and more to do with families participating in the process.
“One of the most exciting benefits we’ve already seen is the opportunity for families to participate directly in a telemedicine consult, so they can see the discussion between the doctors and even ask questions,” said Morris.
Morris says it’s very reassuring for mothers and other family members to see physicians at both locations discussing the baby. Whether the baby remains in Tyler or is transferred to another hospital, family members are able to participate in the discussion and see that such decisions are being made thoughtfully and with genuine concern for the welfare of their baby.
Morris, who recently served as vice chairman of the state-appointed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Council, advocates telemedicine as an important component in the overall goal of delivering the appropriate level of care, in the appropriate place, and at the appropriate time.
“When possible, we want to keep mothers and babies close to home and close to their support systems. Infants requiring a higher level of care should be safely and efficiently transferred, and infants should return to their communities as soon as they can be cared for by their home hospitals. Telemedicine can help us accomplish these imperatives,” said Morris.
Founded in 1913, the not-for-profit Children’s Medical Center is the fifth-largest pediatric healthcare provider in the country, receiving nearly 700,000 patient visits annually with 595 licensed beds at its two full-service campuses in Dallas and Plano, and multiple specialty clinics and 15 primary care MyChildren’s locations. Children’s was the state’s first pediatric hospital to achieve Level 1 Trauma status and is the only pediatric teaching facility in North Texas, affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center. This year, Children’s is celebrating 100 years of making life better for children. For more information, please visit www.childrens.com.
Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics includes The Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital, Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler, Mother Frances Hospital-Jacksonville, Mother Frances Hospital-Winnsboro, Trinity Mother Frances Rehabilitation Hospital, affiliated with HealthSouth, Tyler ContinueCARE Hospital, a long-term acute care facility, and Trinity Clinic. Trinity Clinic is the area’s preferred multispecialty medical group, with over 350 physicians and mid-level providers representing 40 specialties in 36 clinic locations serving East Texas. For more information on services available through Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, visit www.tmfhc.org.