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Technology brings virtual care to life

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   By Andrew Barbash, M.D., October 2011

Imagine visiting a newborn in another state without having to leave home.

Andrew
Barbash,
M.D.

Whether enjoying happy moments, as in the birth of a baby, or navigating serious health issues, such as a stroke, there’s a transformation now in how healthcare professionals collaborate in real time to track and share data, consult with one another and communicate with other care providers, patients and their families.

Despite significant advances in electronic records and other healthcare-related technologies, however, most physicians, allied health professionals, patients and family caregivers agree that communication and collaboration remain major challenges to ensuring continuity of patient care. When collaboration doesn’t occur in real time, the result can be costly to patient outcomes, their families and other healthcare industry stakeholders.

The Motorola Xoom tablet, powered by Verizon,
helps bring virtual care to life.

Creating virtual care environments, with easy-to-use chat and video applications and powered by super-fast wireless networks, solves this long-standing problem. Virtual care, a more all-encompassing term than telemedicine, refers to the broad usage of commonly accessible telecommunications methods in order to advance care processes across the traditional practice boundaries. The key is for all participants to leverage new tools and services that are already “consumer-centric” from a usability perspective, in order to improve care without the constraints of physical space and location.

Virtual care employs basic text chat and video applications, such as Google Talk, Vidyo and GoToMeeting, powered by super-fast wireless networks, such as Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE. Through such networks, sharing data-rich sonograms, CT scans, MRIs or electronic health records is seamless and instantaneous. 4G LTE provides speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G, with decreased latency, allowing physicians, patients and other stakeholders to complete tasks previously unimaginable on a wireless device.   

Imagine visiting a newborn in another state being as simple as a patient authorizing family members to schedule a time to just “drop in,” but the “room” in this case is mobile and accessed from a secure tablet (a Xoom or iPad for example), a mobile workstation or a 4G LTE-connected smartphone. The patient can have one type of device at the bedside, the nursing staff can start the visit from a tablet and perhaps the family is sitting at their own laptop or tablet, all visiting at the same time, seeing the new baby and discussing any issues. The covering obstetrician can drop in and answer questions, getting everyone on the same page.

Recently I experienced a situation where a patient arrived with seizures, having had a stroke in the past. There was concern of a new stroke, but it soon became clear it was most likely a seizure and that he should recover nicely from the acute event, as long as no new complications arose. His wife was present, but his daughter was 200 miles away. She had two small children and a teenager, so travel was challenging.

We confirmed her e-mail right from the neurologist’s smartphone, and soon the daughter was able to visit virtually and see how her dad and her mom were doing. After a quick test to verify the Webcam, sound and connection, the click of a hyperlink launched her into the “neuro-icu virtual consult room” and she saw her father gradually awaken from some of the sedating agents, talked to him to let him know she was with him and talked with her mother to review the situation. The patient’s daughter was also able to review large MRI files, meet the nurses attending to her dad and get a brief tour of the neuro-ICU so she could be comfortable with the facility and the staff caring for her father. Her confidence in the care process rose to such a level that she did not need to leave home but could – and did – follow up online each day.

Virtual care is not a special event for when one cannot be there in person. It becomes the primary means by which people can rapidly interconnect for shared decision making and collaboration, serving as the foundation of a new care model. The result is an efficient way to consult with anyone, anytime, anywhere, and the process actually frees up more time than
it requires.


Andrew Barbash, M.D., is medical director, neurosciences and virtual care services, Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Md.
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