How Telehealth Enabled Critical Care for Newborns During COVID-19

Kat Jercich, Healthcare IT News

July 2021

When the United Kingdom went into lockdown, babies kept being born and kept needing care. That's where teleneonatology came in.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the United Kingdom in March 2020, the government quickly moved to impose a stay-at-home order.

But even as society ground to a halt, one thing stayed constant: Babies were being born, and they needed care.

In Liverpool, England, the restrictions meant a sudden drop in availability for neonatologists.

"There were beginning to be discussions about transferring neonatal surgical services to other centers," explained Dr. Christopher Dewhurst, the clinical director for the Family Health Division at Liverpool Women's Hospital and the Liverpool Neonatal Partnership.

"Our neonatal service would not have survived in its current state without telemedicine," Dewhurst continued.

Dewhurst, who will be presenting at HIMSS21 with Beth Kreofsky, operations manager of the Teleneonatology Program at the Mayo Clinic, explained how moving to telemedicine allowed his team to maintain clinical service at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. Between those two locations, Liverpool has one of the largest neonatal intensive care units in the United Kingdom.

"The teleneonatology solution for our city ensured that we could continue to provide safe, quality care to our babies and families across two sites," said Dewhurst.

Dewhurst's team turned to InTouch Health (now part of Teladoc) to continue care. The system, he said, was "simple to use, which led to the early uptake by clinicians."

And change took place quickly: The program was designed, coordinated, implemented and embraced within two weeks.

Dewhurst said he hopes HIMSS21 session attendees learn that "you can make setting up a system as difficult or as easy as you want."

"Time is no barrier to setting up a telemedicine service," he added. When it comes to measures of success, Dewhurst said that the team has registered a wide range of good signs.

"We have financial benefits, patient satisfaction and clinicians' user feedback, which is positive," he said.

In particular, caregivers mention "the speed of reviews and ability to communicate quickly and effectively with specialists from other hospitals," said Dewhurst.

Overall, he said, "We showed that with passion, commitment, and [willingness] – you can set up a whole teleneonatology program quickly and safely," he said.