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High-Tech Lifeline for Newborns in Crisis: Children's Medical Center Launches First Neonatal Telemedicine Program in Texas

September 17, 2013 - The Wall Street Journal

Children's Medical Center Dallas today announced it is launching the state's first dedicated neonatal telemedicine program -- the Children's Medical Center TeleNICU. The new service will provide physicians at other hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) with 24-hour access to the highly trained, board-certified UT Southwestern neonatologists on Children's medical staff in order to consult on care for the region's tiniest and most fragile patients.

The TeleNICU program utilizes specialized equipment and secure broadband transmission to allow two-way, real-time interactive communication between hospitals and enable expert neonatologists at Children's to virtually examine newborns at distant-site NICUs. Participating hospitals will connect to Children's through a mobile equipment cart that includes medical-quality videoconferencing, data transfer and digital scoping equipment. Children's Medical Center TeleNICU will be fully operational this month and ready to assist other hospital NICUs located in Texas and beyond.

"As the first telemedicine program of its kind in Texas, the Children's Medical Center TeleNICU program exemplifies our deep commitment to innovation and the use of proven technology to extend the reach of our expertise beyond the boundaries of walls and geography," said Christopher J. Durovich, president and chief executive officer of Children's.

"Children's Medical Center is the region's premier provider of complex pediatric care and a trusted resource for hospitals throughout North Texas and neighboring states. The TeleNICU will enable us to work collaboratively with our hospital and physician colleagues to deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right place," said Durovich.

Affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center, one of the nation's leading academic medical institutions, Children's is the only pediatric teaching and research hospital in North Texas. As the region's major neonatal tertiary-care center, Children's provides complex care for seriously ill newborns and infants transferred from other hospitals.

According to Durovich, the NICU at Children's is designated a Level-IV -- the highest standard set by the American Academy of Pediatrics -- and staffed 24/7 by expert UT Southwestern neonatologists.

Although the total number of hospital NICUs in Texas and nationally has increased over the past decade, many are Level-I and Level-II NICUs that are not staffed or equipped for complex care. The Children's Medical Center TeleNICU program can help facilitate sound decision-making in the region about whether and when transfers are necessary, which is intended to result in both improved care and reduced cost. The hope is that TeleNICU consultation will minimize or even eliminate the need for transport in many cases, so newborns can remain at their home hospitals longer -- reducing the stress of travel on both patients and families.

The Children's Medical Center TeleNICU also is expected to play an important regional role in ongoing provider education and quality care by facilitating greater flow of information and expertise among health care providers, and accomplishing it more efficiently.

"As a Level-IV NICU and a major academic and research center, we have a responsibility to import and export best practices and share established protocols with other hospitals - and telemedicine enables us to be available without the constraints of physical travel," said Dr. Rashmin Savani, division director of neonatal-perinatal medicine at UT Southwestern and Children's, and professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Savani also pointed out that North Texas has a growing population with a climbing birthrate, in contrast to other parts of the country, and the demand for NICUs remains high due to premature deliveries and multiple births, among other factors.

"The Children's Medical Center TeleNICU will enhance the quality of neonatal intensive care in our region today, as well as prepare for the future pediatric population in the communities we serve," said Savani.


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