In the 1960s a family named The Jetsons showed us an idealistic look at the future and what technology we hoped to have in store. In one episode, George Jetson has a video call with his doctor from the comfort of his living room. At that point in time, color television was just becoming a trend, and talking to people in remote locations through it was just a distant idea. Nearly 50 years later, that vision has become a reality.
Medicine and technology have gone hand in hand since the invention of two-way radios, but only in the past few years has technology broken the mold with what doctors can do to make medical access for patients easier.
Chief Nursing Officer for Ochsner Baptist Donna Martin says the rise in technology in medicine came in the last few years during a need for physicians and psychiatrists outweighed the number of available professionals.
“There just aren’t enough doctors anymore,” Marin said. “Because of that, the medical field has seen high levels of innovation with new technology to make up for the deficit.”
Martin also added that one of the biggest drought of doctors is in the mental health field. Telemedicine makes it easier to get the mentally ill patients the help they need in order to keep them safe.
“If a patient comes to you and says they are in danger of hurting themselves, there is a 72-hour Physician Emergency Confinement period where the patient needs to be evaluated by a psychiatrist,” said Martin. “TelePsych helps get a psychiatrist in the room via video call to figure out the patient’s status.”
Ochsner Hospital nurse Gina Kanzig said the leap in technology since she started nursing in 1984 has changed her work dramatically in terms of communicating with her patients both near and far.
One example of telemedical benefits is a real-time, on demand interpreter system called My Accessible Real Time Trusted Interpreter or MARTTI for short allows nurses to communicate with patients who do not speak the dominant language of the hospital. The machine allows the nurse to instantly be connected to an interpreter who translates both the patient and healthcare worker as they converse, making the conversation smooth and frictionless.
The scope of telemedicine is very wide, Martin said, and many different services exist in order to help patients across a variety of needs. The main similarity between most of the telemedical advancements comes from high quality camera technology and high speed internet, allowing doctors and patients to interact across long distances in effective ways.
Martin said these offerings range from senior care to remote monitoring of women in labor. The Electronic Intensive Care Unit and TeleStork, a trademark of Ochsner Hospital, involve a bunker, or control center, where nurses watch live feeds of a certain number of patients at various different hospitals in order to look for warning signs or status changes. EICU nurses and doctors can use the camera to lock in onto all machines in the room. It is even accurate enough to get as close as seeing the patient’s pupils. If needed, the nurse or doctor can hold a video call with the patient.
“When I was an ICU nurse in the 80s, we always had to worry about waking up a doctor at 3 a.m. in order to get a second opinion,” Kanzig said. “I would have loved to have doctors on call via a Skype-like call at any time of day like nurses do now.”
In the case of women in labor on contraction monitors, these TeleStork nurses can give an early alert if they feel something is going wrong with the patient.
Leaps in patient safety have made hospital stays for elderly patients far more secure than ever before. AvaSure’s AvaSys cameras make it possible for any patients at risk for falling to be kept under a watchful eye, not only to prevent them from getting out of bed and hurting themselves, but preventing bed sores from forming. The new technology has been made available to all patients at Ochsner because of their focus on safety.
“If patients fall or injure themselves, it is a big deal for us,” Martin said. “Having nurses or sitters keeping an eye on restless patients helps keep them safe.”
Some of the biggest users of telemedicine technology are rural hospitals not outfitted with technology available to larger city hospitals. Formerly, if serious issues arose with patients, they would have to be transported to larger hospitals, wasting valuable time in medical care.
An example given as to how telemedicine helps save lives in rural hospitals is if a child’s delivery runs into an issue, the doctors on staff can have a video conference with a neonatologist at a moment’s notice.
“The neonatologist can analyze the rise and fall of the child’s chest and determine what needs to be done to keep the child stable until help arrives,” Martin said.
The biggest challenges to telemedicine’s spread comes from cost and quality of user. All of the technology involved adds up in price quickly, and when the devices are installed, training is required to make sure nurses are using the technology correctly.
On top of that, patients’ willingness to participate has been a hurdle.
“A lot of people aren’t there yet, and they aren’t comfortable with a doctor not in the room yet,” Martin said.
Many patients around the country have already started using telemedicine to complete check-ups and have questions answered about their health. The main practical use for the average person is saving time.
“People are getting busier and busier, and the time they would normally spend in a waiting room is valuable,” Kanzig said.
The incredible advances telemedicine has had in the last couple of years is astounding. Technology in the medical field has moved so quickly telemedicine is now the primary way NASA keeps astronauts on the International Space Station in good health.
With the speed at which medical technology is moving, those in the field are optimistic that, despite the cost and training involved, telemedicine will continue to develop and help patients in meaningful ways.