Telemedicine improves pediatric care in rural ERs

Care quality for pediatric patients in rural emergency rooms improved "significantly" when delivered via telemedicine consultations, according to a study published online this week in the journal Critical Care Medicine.

For the study, researchers from the University of California Davis Children's Hospital examined ER cases for 320 seriously ill or injured patients 17 years old and younger between 2003 and 2007. The patients all were treated at hospitals in Northern California outfitted with videoconferencing units. ER physicians used the tools to work with pediatric critical-care specialists at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

The researchers also determined parent satisfaction with care delivered to their children via telemedicine to be higher than consultations provided via telephone. Rural ER physicians were more apt to adjust diagnoses and treatments for such patients following the telemedicine consultations.

"This research is important because it is one of the first published studies that has evaluated the value of telemedicine against the current standards of care from three different viewpoints: the emergency room physician; the parents of the patients; and the actual quality of care and patient outcome," lead author Madan Dharmar, an assistant research professor in the pediatric telemedicine program at UC Davis, said in a statement.

Added study senior author James Marcin, director of the hospital's telemedicine program, "The bottom line is that this readily available technology can and should be used to improve the quality of care delivered to critically ill children when there are no pediatric specialists available in their own communities."

The study is a continuation of research published last month by in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health. In that study, the same team of researchers found that hospitals that used telemedicine technology and referred patients to children's facilities saw their revenue nearly double. For that study, the researchers examined billing information for patients transferred from 16 hospitals that used telemedicine, comparing information before and after the implementation of telemedicine tools from July 2003 through December 2010.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the announcement