The latest trend in access to care is expanding as more specialists begin to harness technology to offer their services across distance. Telemedicine is making access to doctors and specialists more accessible—and improving the lives of women experiencing high-risk pregnancies.
What Is It?
Telemedicine utilizes phone, internet and video capabilities to connect doctors and specialists with patients. Its use has expanded considerably from connecting with a specialist for a consultation between offices in upscale city practices to creating access to the best specialists around the country for rural populations. Telemedicine originated as a method to access language interpreters that were difficult to arrange in person. Now the method makes it possible to connect with experts several states over for diagnosis and treatment assistance and bring doctors to areas that have high rates of low healthcare access. Through the use of technology – webcams and secure video connections – doctors can consult with each other to discuss patients, and patients can “see” a specialist they otherwise would not be able to get to, all from the familiar surroundings of their primary provider’s office.
Applications to Obstetrics
Many rural areas have only one or two family doctors who are trying to serve a significant population with a variety of needs. Although family doctors do a rotation in obstetrics as part of their training, the field is constantly changing and it’s not easy to stay up to date on new technology, new methodology, new science and more for the breadth of services these doctors provide from birth through old age. Using telemedicine to connect with doctors, according to a maternal fetal specialist who can be found on LinkedIn, provides rural patients with access to real-time consultations.
For high risk pregnancies, this service can be a life-saver. Some factors that may make a pregnancy high risk are a mother over the age of forty, a significant history of miscarriage, a history of diabetes or gestational diabetes, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, some autoimmune diseases, kidney or heart problems and placenta previa. These conditions can lead to low birth weight, pre-term delivery and significant risks to both mom and baby. Without an obstetrician available to properly diagnose symptoms or recognize that something is wrong, the situation can be quite dire. Even obstetricians have to consult with other specialists, especially in the case of high risk issues. In a community that has an obstetrician available, they may still lack any other specialists for miles.
The Medical University of South Carolina’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine was an early adopter of the technology because they noted their state had one of the highest neonatal death rates in the country. With twelve rural counties that don’t even have an obstetrician, it was no wonder premature births and mortality rates were high. Over six years they have made a dramatic impact in all those areas and overall health.
Communities invested in the use of telemedicine are seeing significant value. The ability to see patients in person is always best and preferred but for decades rural populations have suffered high rates of maternal mortality and infant mortality because pregnant women couldn’t get to the necessary care to address their unique needs. Through the refining of the technology around video conferencing, women now have access to doctors all over the world. If a pregnant woman has cancer and the best specialist is in England, all it takes is a webcam to connect them. Doctors are able to share the latest test results, areas of concern they have, and mom can ask her own questions directly of the specialist.