Objective: A disparity in access to health care exists between rural and urban areas. Although 21% of children in the United States live in rural areas, only 3% of pediatric intensivists practice in rural areas. In an attempt to address this issue, we implemented a program of pediatric critical care telemedicine consultations in rural emergency departments (EDs) and report our results.
Patients and methods: A prospective evaluation of pediatric critical care consultations in rural EDs was undertaken March 2006 through March 2008. A referral area with a population of 1,000,000 in 19 rural counties in Vermont and upstate New York comprised the study area.
Measurements and main results: Sixty-three telemedicine consultations were performed in 10 rural EDs. The average number of consultations was 6.3 per site (range 2-17). Minor technical issues were identified in 18 consultations (29%). There were 12 primary diagnoses. Telemedicine was used to supervise the critical care transport team on 25 occasions (40%). Consulting intensivists made 236 specific recommendations. Consulting intensivists thought that telemedicine consultations improved patient care 89% of the time, were superior to telephone consultations 91% of the time, and provided good to very good provider-to-provider communications 98% of the time. Referring providers reported that telemedicine consultations improved patient care 88% of the time, were superior to telephone consultations 55% of the time, and provided good to very good communications 94% of the time.
Conclusions: With telemedicine, it is feasible to provide urgent subspecialty critical care for children in underserved rural EDs, improve patient care, and provide a high degree of provider satisfaction. Pediatric critical care telemedicine may help to address the disparities in the access to and the outcome of medical care between rural and urban areas.