Neonatal Intensive Care Unit benefits from virtual care

Kids Health Alliance (KHA) is excited to announce the launch of a new virtual care project that will allow the care team at Markham Stouffville Hospital’s (MSH) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to consult experts at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) with the added use of video.

All with the hope of improving coordination of care for the province’s tiniest patients.

Virtual care has gained traction in just about every part of the health-care system. When implemented correctly, virtual care can be safe, improve access to health-care providers, result in cost savings and improve the overall patient and clinician experience.

The KHA project introduces video capabilities between consulting physicians and nurses in MSH’s NICU and the SickKids Acute Care Transport Service (ACTS) team. The SickKids ACTS team brings the expertise of intensive care to community hospitals. With specialized training and equipment, the SickKids ACTS team provides high-quality care to a critically ill infant or child.

Currently in Ontario, 49 NICUs use the Neonatal Consult, Transfer and Transport program to seek input from paediatric and neonatal medical specialists. Up until now, this program has been accessed exclusively over the phone. The addition of video will better support the MSH team to determine whether they can safely keep the baby closer to home or of if the baby needs to be transported to SickKids to receive more specialized care.

“Every second counts with these tiny patients. We hope that by participating in this KHA project to add the ability to see the baby in real time and monitor how they are doing will improve their health outcomes and allow us to deliver enhanced quality care close to home for the entire family,” says Jo-anne Marr, President and CEO of MSH.

For patients and families, staying closer to home improves their overall experience and eases some of the stress of a prolonged hospital stay. There are also financial benefits to avoiding unnecessary transfers by reducing health-care system costs associated with land or air transfers, and keeping babies in the community at a lower cost per day to the health system.

“Adding video capabilities to this process will provide eyes on the baby, significantly improving the SickKids team’s ability to determine if the baby needs to be transferred and what measures can be taken to keep the baby stable until the transport team arrives. The SickKids team will also be able to collaborate better with MSH to identify and avoid unnecessary transfers,” says Larissa Smit, Interim Executive Director at KHA.

Through KHA, the project teams at MSH and SickKids will participate in an evaluation to measure outcomes, including clinician’s perceptions about the benefits of adding video, avoidance of unnecessary transfers and overall experience. KHA will also monitor if the added use of video translates to more “advice only” calls that allow the baby to stay at MSH.

“Access to virtual care is more important than ever,” says Dr. Ronald Cohn, Chair of the KHA Board and President and CEO of SickKids. “In a matter of weeks, virtual care has become a primary method of health-care delivery. We are excited to launch this initiative with Markham Stouffville Hospital that will provide timely advice between clinicians and a better experience for patients and their families.”

Photo: The Interprofessional NICU team at Markham Stouffville Hospital participating in a test-run of the video virtual care using a simulation mannequin.

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