Adena Health System is an independent, not-for-profit health system with over 2,400 employees, encompassing the Adena Medical Center and several smaller clinics. Located in Chillicothe, Ohio, Adena Medical Center serves 10 rural counties in southern Ohio. While the medical center has provided outstanding care for mothers and newborns since its founding in 1895, it had very limited access to physicians specializing in neonatal critical care. For this reason, doctors had little choice but to transfer any newborn that might need critical care to Nationwide Childrens Hospital, 70 miles north in Columbus, Ohio. In fact, because of the volume delivered at Adena, more newborns were transferred from Chillicothe to Nationwide Childrens than from any other provider outside Columbus. The resulting transfers could place significant strain on families and the patients themselves. Since Adena serves some of the most financially challenged counties in Ohio, the costs for parents to travel to Columbus and stay there while a newborn received treatment could present a real financial hardship as well.
Today, more babies in southern Ohio can stay with their parents at Adena thanks to the Adena telemedicine project. Working with Nationwide Childrens Hospital and the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), Adena leaders launched the telemedicine initiative in 2006 to virtually link the medical center with Nationwide Childrens. Now, using a high-definition videoconferencing system, specialists in Columbus can evaluate newborns, share tests, radiographic images, and work in consultation with local Adena pediatricians as if they were standing in the same room.
Instead of relying on phone conversations, faxes, and verbal descriptions of symptoms, Nationwide Childrens Hospital neonatologists in Columbus can see newborn patients at Adena themselves with extraordinary clarity. Remote doctors have full control of high-definition cameras, allowing them to zoom in and out on patients, zero in on concerning physical exam findings, and make more thorough evaluations. Using the same system, doctors can share patient X-rays and other diagnostic images, pull up lab results and medical records, and eventually will be able to use a remote electronic stethoscope.
While the ability to perform remote evaluations is critical, the telemedicine system is more than just a one-way conduit for information. Using the same videoconferencing tools, Adena physicians can closely follow the progress of critical newborns that have been transferred to Nationwide Childrens, and can even allow recovering mothers in Chillicothe to see and interact with their babies 70 miles away.
There were minimal costs associated with the project thanks to an $115,000 grant from the Ohio Board of Regents funded through HHS that provided a high-speed network connection to support the delivery of neonatology services from Nationwide Childrens Hospital to Adena Medical Center. In addition, high-speed videoconferencing capabilities were made possible by OARnet, a program funded by the Ohio Board of Regents that provides a reliable high-performance networking infrastructure for a diverse statewide and regional community.
Adenas Telemedicine Project allows specialists to make more accurate diagnoses, fully participate in treatment, and preserve space at Nationwide Childrens Hospital for only the most critical cases. For families in southern Ohio, the project has meant more advanced care closer to home and less need for newborns to be transferred. In just its first year of operation, the project helped cut the number of patients transferred from Adena to Nationwide Childrens in half. Now, instead of seven to 15 babies being transferred monthly, the number has been reduced to three to five per month. The families of babies who are able to remain in Chillicothe are able to experience less anxiety, inconvenience, and the expense of a patient transport and tertiary care inpatient stay.
The most important advantage of the Adena telemedicine project is that it allows Adena Health System to provide a higher level of care for patients who need help most, improving quality of care for patients and reduced burden on the patient and family.