SAN FRANCISCO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Using telemedicine for a follow-up appointment 1 week after discharge of medically complex infants reduced extra visits or calls to a clinic or emergency department, a recent study found.

The telemedicine visits also helped providers identify ways to improve the neonatal ICU (NICU) discharge process while assessing infants’ home care and answering parents’ questions.

The pilot project (at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) requires more clinical research to validate its findings, but offered enough benefits for the hospital to consider integrating telemedicine visits into the routine discharge process, said Marisa L. Brant, MD , a neonatology fellow at the hospital.

The researchers assessed whether telemedicine visits could ease the transition from neonatal intensive care to home care in Naples, FL, respond adequately to caregivers’ needs during that transition, reduce emergency department visits and readmissions, and detect and address any potential problems. The visits also provided an opportunity for feedback on caregivers’ experiences during discharge.

The 92 patients all were medically complex infants who went home with respiratory or feeding equipment, surgical sites and/or complex medication administration. For example, 28 infants had been sent home with a nasogastric tube, 13 had a gastrostomy tube, and 13 had an apnea monitor. Overall, participants had been discharged with an average 2.3 medications and 4.8 scheduled subspecialty follow-up appointments.

The most common conditions among the participants were gastrointestinal disease, neurologic disease, and congenital diaphragmatic hernia or lung lesions. Other conditions included omphalocele, genetic disorders, tracheoesophageal fistula or esophageal atresia and chronic lung disease, or another respiratory disease, Dr. Brant reported at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting.

Families could enroll in the study only if they had a smart device (such as a tablet) and wireless Internet access at home. One week after the infant’s discharge from the NICU, the caregivers received one telemedicine visit with a team that included neonatologists, neonatal fellows, nurse practitioners, and a telemedicine coordinator or support staffer. During the visit, the providers observed the infant and the home environment, and evaluated care practices, including tube feedings, respiratory support, management of surgical wound sites, and administration of medications.

The providers also reviewed how to use the medical equipment, gathered follow-up information about the child’s health, and answered caregivers’ questions. The providers did not bill for telemedicine visits since it was part of a pilot study, but the participants did need to reside in Pennsylvania or New Jersey to meet provider licensing regulations.

Among the 93 telemedicine visits, half (50%) prevented the family from calling or visiting a provider, and 12% of them led to an earlier follow-up appointment for the child. During the video observations, providers addressed 14 issues related to the child’s sleep environment, respiratory status, surgical sites, or dermatological issues. Among 78 total concerns identified in the visits, 35% related to the surgical site, 33% related to feeding, 19% related to respiratory concerns, and 13% related to medication administration.

The provider team also asked families during the visit about their experiences during discharge. A quarter of the families (26%) said they needed more parental education during discharge. In addition, 14% mentioned problems with scheduling follow-up appointments, and 12% had problems related to case management and insurance. Other issues raised by parents related to home equipment, early intervention, home feeding or medications, and diagnostic logistics.

In subsequent satisfaction surveys filled out by caregivers about the telemedicine visit itself, the median rating was 94.5 on a scale of 0 (not at all satisfied) to 100 (extremely satisfied). The overall intervention was 92% successful in its completion. The only follow-up telemedicine visits that did not occur resulted from malfunctioning wireless connection or a mobile app problem. On a scale of 1 to 100 (best), caregivers rated the video quality as an average 78, the Internet reliability as 79, and the ease of using the camera as 91. One of the biggest benefits of the intervention, Dr. Brant pointed out, is that using telemedicine bypasses some of the geographic and time-related obstacles that can occur with follow-ups.

Dr. Brant had no relevant financial disclosures and did not report using any external funding.


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