One of the most stressful times in a parent’s life is the hospitalization of a child, especially a newborn. Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Boston have found a tool to ease that time of separation, improve medical care and lessen financial burdens?the Internet.
In a study funded by the National Library of Medicine’s Telemedicine Initiative, multimedia computers with Internet and teleconferencing equipment were installed in the homes of 26 infants with very low birth weight who were admitted to Deaconess’s NICU. With that equipment, families accessed the Baby CareLink website to view photos, send confidential messages to care providers, review their babies’ clinical reports, watch educational videos, read care information and complete training courses. The highlight of the site, though, is parents’ ability to schedule virtual visits with their wee bundles of joy 24 hours a day from anywhere.
The system uses Microsoft’s Back Office, with security provided by RSA Security of Bedford, Mass. Families could access the website via standard phone lines, but videoconferencing with Andover, Mass.-based PictureTel’s Live 200 required a 128KB ISDN line. The NICU hopes to eventually make everything accessible through normal phone lines, enabling families to use computers in their homes, offices or even local libraries to connect to Baby CareLink.
Families participating in the program rated the overall quality of care for their infants higher than families that weren’t enrolled. Parents typically accessed the website daily and made more than 12 videoconferences during the study. Similar teleprograms elsewhere have also resulted in fewer physician home visits, unscheduled hospital visits and days hospitalized. All CareLink infants were discharged directly to home?instead of first being transferred to community hospitals?and often sooner than control group babies.