Intermountain Health’s Telehealth NICU Consultations Help Preemies Receive Care Closer to Home

Industry: Healthcare

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and Intermountain Health highlights efforts to help preemies and their families wherever they live.

Salt Lake City, UT (PRUnderground) November 30th, 2023

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Ten percent of births in the U.S. happen prematurely. Despite lots of research, the reasons behind premature birth are not completely understood, so the percentage of births that are premature has stayed about the same for 40 years.

Premature birth is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation. The average gestation for pregnancy is 39 weeks.

Premature babies (or preemies) typically have lower birth weights than babies born at term, and they often require a longer hospital stay. Depending on their gestational age and their medical needs, they may need to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit or neonatal ICU.

Preemies and babies born with congenital complications may need medical intervention to help with respiratory distress, resuscitation, infection, breathing, feeding, or complications with their lungs, heart, kidneys, or bones, or maintaining their body temperature or other health conditions.

“Often, preemies need to stay in a neonatal ICU up until about the time they reach the date they were supposed to be born. This is a stressful time for parents, especially if the neonatal ICU is far from their home or they have other young children at home they need to attend to,” said Stephen Minton, MD, a neonatologist with Intermountain Health Utah Valley Hospital.

Telehealth provider-to-provider neonatal ICU consultations

Intermountain Health has developed a way for preemies to receive higher-level care closer to home, through telehealth neonatal ICU consultations. This is where a hospital-based physician can consult remotely with a highly trained neonatologist through telehealth, to assess a premature baby. The expert neonatologist can assess what level of care is needed for the preemie, and walk the hospital provider through how to care for the baby or recommend the baby be transported to a hospital with a higher level of neonatal ICU care.

In the last year, Intermountain Health has provide 1,250 neonatal intensive care telehealth consultations.

“Today, Intermountain Health offers the largest network of telehealth neonatal ICU consultations in the U.S. One of several highly-trained neonatologists is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to consult with physicians at Intermountain’s 23 hospitals in Utah and Idaho,” said Dr. Minton, who helped pioneer the program and has cared for more than 40,000 babies over his career.

“A hospital staff member can page me from any of Intermountain’s 23 hospitals with a voice activated device they wear around their neck, and I will pick up the call in one minute and we’re on a video call together in the next two minutes,” he added. “Some calls are a few minutes long and others can last for several hours.”

According to Dr. Minton if a mom goes into labor at 27 weeks gestation or less, she should call her doctor. If they give birth at 27 weeks or less, they are going to need at least a level three neonatal ICU. Some preemies with even more serious conditions may need to go to Intermountain Health Primary Children’s Hospital.

Neonatal telehealth consultations are a win-win

For parents, in outlying areas, the benefits of these neonatal telehealth consults are that their baby can receive a higher level or care than their community hospital has provided in the past. They spend less time commuting to see their baby in person and they experience less stress, by knowing an expert is guiding the care for their baby.

“Having a baby in a neonatal ICU is an extremely stressful scenario for parents. They often feel their baby may die. So as much as we can consult with them and help them feel empowered to make decisions, then their experience is less traumatic,” said Dr. Minton

For hospital providers, they are able to upskill and learn more specialized medical treatments for their preemie patients. This additional training helps Intermountain be able to recruit more neonatal providers.

For hospital nurses, therapists and other staff, it saves them from experiencing as many traumatic events with their tiny patients.

“Forty years ago, when I started practicing as a neonatologist, I’d have an average of three babies die in the delivery room every day, because we didn’t have the medical advancements we have today. I went into this field because I saw the opportunity to pioneer innovations in this neonatal specialty,” said Dr. Minton.

For more information about newborn and neonatal care visit Intermountainhealth.org

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news.

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