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Teleneonatology debuts at KRMC

Telemedicine is stretching its wings at Kalispell Regional Healthcare and partnering hospitals.

A 32-week baby, born in June at Ronan’s St. Luke Community Healthcare at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, arrived to the world in distress. But, thanks to a telemedicine network that was established initially for stroke care between the two hospitals, the tiny girl ended up in very good hands.

A.L.E.R.T. Flight Nurse Doris Yeatts, RN, said the mom still was in labor when the call requesting transport came in from Ronan. She, EMT Laurel Smart and pilot Matt Weller began preparations for the flight. As they were leaving, Neonatologist Mark Kaneta, MD, floated the idea of using the InTouch Health technology.

“I said, ‘Yes, please,’” Doris recalled, “and we headed out.” When they touched down in Ronan, St. Luke’s medical team already had connected their end of the telemedicine equipment. Dr. Kaneta and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Clinical Specialist Mindy Fuzesy signed in from Kalispell and the dual sites began communicating verbally and visually.

The premature, hypotensive and hypoglycemic girl needed a dose of dextrose for her low blood glucose, and she needed a normal saline dose. As Laurel prepped all the supplies, Doris calculated dosages and began administering the life-saving medicines. At the same time, Mindy calculated the dosages and Dr. Kaneta assessed the infant via video link, viewing each procedure in real time.

“To have that resource of someone checking your math – that was great,” Doris said.

As Doris and the Ronan doctors worked on the newborn, Dr. Kaneta watched closely and directed care – noting the baby’s color, reading data from the monitors in the Ronan operating room, watching her response to meds and to the CPAP that told him intubation was not needed. The high quality of the two-way optics was a huge boon.

“The Ronan team and the dad relaxed because they could see the Kalispell doctor and they felt comfortable that I was seeing everything as it happened,” Dr. Kaneta said. “At the same instant I knew, they knew.”

Because Doris didn’t have to stop and report results to Dr. Kaneta at each step, treatment was much swifter. “I could see immediately what to do and whether it worked,” Dr. Kaneta said.

Right through the minutes that Doris and Laurel packaged the infant for transport back to the Kalispell NICU, Doris felt solid support.

“As we used it throughout getting the baby ready to go, it was very nice to have someone checking,” Doris said. “I felt it was providing the best care that baby could have because you have someone checking everything.”

The mother’s physician in Ronan called Dr. Kaneta the next day to say how much he liked the interaction. “It made a stressful situation more controlled,” Kaneta said. “Just to have that resource there makes everyone calm. You could do the verbal communication over the phone, but this takes the guesswork, the emotion out of it.”

KRMC’s referral hospitals in Libby, Ronan, Cut Bank and Whitefish also have access to this teleneonatology service because of federal grant funding for the equipment and cabling. The same grant that funded KRMC’s InTouch start-up technology also covered the cost of these hospitals’ equipment.

Over the past few years, two initiatives have helped pave the way for telemedicine in northwest Montana. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded $13.6 million to fund the Health Information Exchange of Montana, which established an advanced fiber-optic network between KRMC and remote sites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tele-Stroke grant funded robotic equipment that allows Kalispell physicians to evaluate patients in real time in rural communities.

Most recently, KRMC was awarded a $373,658 grant from the USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program to provide reliable telecommunications connectivity for four additional rural facilities.

Access to these technologies is changing the face of rural medicine, offering advanced diagnosis and treatment options for patients in remote areas and support for the physicians caring for them. To learn more about telemedicine at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, please call (406) 751-3067.