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Dialing the Doctor: Telemedicine Technology Brings Expert Care Close to Homeoctor: Telemedicine Technology Brings Expert Care Close to Home

New Service WILLITS, CA – When two-year old Rory Hastings woke up on a Monday morning in February with redness around his eye, his mother, Alana Hastings did not think anything of it; this was not the first time her busy little guy had gotten into poison oak. By Monday afternoon, the toddler looked like little Rocky after his final round in the ring. But instead of being purple and puffy, Rory’s eye was surrounded by redness, completely swollen shut and he was running a fever.  “It was then that I knew it was something more serious.”

At the doctor’s office, they were advised to go to the emergency room at Frank Howard Memorial Hospital (HMH).  By this time, Hastings said she was completely panicked. “I didn’t know what was going on or how serious it was. And I kept thinking I should have done something sooner.”

In the ER, Rory was hysterical. But Amy Buckingham, ER director, Lydia Sims, Pediatric Advanced Life Support nurse and Kristy Bowen, RN knew what to do.  As an HMH employee, Hastings knew the staff personally and professionally which made a difference, she noted. “There was already a comfort level there. I was familiar with the extensive training that the nurses have to go through. I felt that I could trust them with my son’s life.”

Blood tests showed that his white blood count was elevated, signaling an infection. A CT scan was recommended immediately since it was too close to his brain and his eye. 

Two hundred miles away from where Rory lays in a hospital bed, Jacqueline Evans, M.D., Ph.D from UC Davis Children’s Hospital sat in front of a computer screen in Sacramento and was able to speak to Hastings, review tests and scans and consult with Charles Hott, MD, physician on duty at HMH. 

“It was amazing. It felt like we were right there in the pediatric ICU at UC Davis instead of four hours away. They put Rory on the screen and the doctor looked at him. They could zoom on his body to see the details and we were able to talk to them and ask questions,” shared Hastings. 

Telemedicine, which uses the same technology as Skype or other videoconferencing technology, connects patients in rural areas such as Willits to specialists who can then perform a consultation in real time without the expense and burden of transportation. The equipment allows a physician from UC Davis to perform an actual exam, including being able to hear heart and lung sound, check for vital signs and perform an electrocardiogram in real time.

“It was amazing to be able to have access to a specialist. Normally we would have to drive to Santa Rosa, San Francisco or Sacramento to get this kind of specialty care,” Hastings adds.  

After the consultation, Dr. Evans recommended a CT scan to help determine if the facial swelling was in fact due to an infection or a possible allergic. The results of the CT were then discussed with Dr. Evans and a care plan was formulated. It was determined that Rory had what appeared to be a very aggressive sinus infection which tracked into the orbit cavity causing pressure to the nerves in his eye. Without proper treatment, the infection would worsen causing the pressure on the nerves to increase to his eyes, thus threatening his vision. 
 
“So while we were still waiting to get transferred to UC Davis, it made us feel better knowing that Rory was already getting treatment,” added Hastings. “It helps that we didn’t have to drive four hours for a diagnosis. That reassurance and not having to worry that whole time is just priceless especially for a first time parent,” she explained.

Buckingham, who manages the ED at HMH, says telemedicine provides patients with access to specialists who are not available locally and without the hassle of driving to the city. “Besides improving access to care, and reducing the burden on them, patients are able to be seen quicker and they are still connected to social services right here within our own community; including tests, follow-up care and other routine procedures.

”This program helps to ensure that patients get the care from specialists who are only available in other areas,” said Rick Bockmann, HMH president and CEO. “Telemedicine is a great addition to our excellent patient care. We’re excited to provide this service to our community. Because telemedicine enables patients to get evaluated and treated sooner, it ultimately means they can have better health outcomes.” 

In Rory’s case, because all of the initial paperwork and consultation had been done, the transfer from HMH to UC Davis was seamless. “They had a room ready for us as soon as we got there. This was a pleasant surprise since my husband and I are familiar with the process of transferring patients.”

Hastings and her family spent the next seven days at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Thanks to telemedicine and the fast response at both HMH and UC Davis, Rory has no complications. He is back to his adventures in the woods and enjoying the outdoors like a typical two-year old. 

Hastings says she will be forever grateful to the staff at both hospitals. “It was just reassuring to know, that they had this expertise from UC Davis, coupled with our great staff at HMH, and it made me feel like ‘they got this’ and Rory will be fine.” 

Telemedicine services are covered by some insurance plans and are available at HMH’s emergency department and other Adventist Health Hospitals in the Northern California region. The new emergency department at HMH is now open and offers seven private treatment rooms, two trauma rooms and a helistop for patient transfers. Visit howardhospital.org to learn more.

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Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital is part of Adventist Health, a faith-based, nonprofit integrated health system serving more than 75 communities in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Our workforce of 32,700 includes more than 23,400 employees; nearly 5,000 medical staff physicians; and 4,300 volunteers. Founded on Seventh-day Adventist heritage and values, Adventist Health provides compassionate care in 19 hospitals, more than 260 clinics (hospital-based, rural health and physician clinics), 15 home care agencies, seven hospice agencies and four joint-venture retirement centers. In addition, the Adventist Health Plan serves patients in Kings County. Adventist Health ranked #10 in Becker's list of the largest nonprofit hospital systems in the U.S. for 2015. Visit www.howardhospital.org for more information.