Telemedicine brings specialists and families together at NHRMC

June 25, 2007
Meredith Hughes noticed a small bump on her daughter’s foot about eight months ago. It didn’t seem painful for little Macy, but like any parent Meredith wanted some answers. The first three doctors they saw couldn’t give a firm diagnosis. That’s when Meredith decided to see Dr. Dean Morrell, Pediatric Dermatologist at UNC Chapel Hill, even if it was a 2½-hour drive. But, thanks to the new telemedicine program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the trip for Meredith and now 10-month-old Macy was much shorter. She visited NHRMC’s Pediatric Specialty Clinic, where technology brings specialist and patient together from 160 miles away. Cameras and monitors provide two-way communication. Dr. Morrell asks questions like he would in any office visit. Pediatric nurse Vanessa VanGilder becomes his hands, moving the mini-camera to provide a close up image that the doctor sees on the big-screen monitor in his Chapel Hill office. “Now, can you scratch the area for me?” Dr. Morrell asks. “Is it puffing up?” Both Meredith and Vanessa reply “Yes, it is!” Within three minutes, he made a diagnosis of Mastycytoma, an excess growth of white blood cells in Macy’s foot, nothing for Mom to worry about and something that he says will go away on its own. “We’ve seen several doctors before we came to you,” Hughes said to Dr. Morrell. “To have you tell us what it is in just minutes - that’s wonderful!” Pediatric Telemedicine at NHRMC grew out of the increased need for specialized care. Several years ago, New Hanover Regional Medical Center entered into a relationship with UNC Chapel Hill, having doctors fly to Wilmington monthly to see patients in the Pediatric Specialty Clinics. As the population grew, however, demand increased and wait times grew to several months. Dr. Joseph Pino, a member of the medical staff at NHRMC and Clinical Assistant Professor at UNC, envisioned using the concept of telemedicine to provide greater access to this specialized care. A grant from The Duke Endowment provided funds to purchase the necessary equipment and start the project. “We’ve been fortunate that many things fell into place,” Dr. Pino said. “We were in the right place at the right time with The Duke Endowment wanting to help children’s services and giving us a $150,000 grant. We were also fortunate to have UNC physicians open to the idea and willing to engage in the process.” The first Pediatric Telemedicine clinic at NHRMC took place in December of 2006. Since then specialists in pediatric endocrinology, pulmonology and now dermatology have seen patients in Wilmington using telemedicine. Clinics in pediatric gastroenterology and infectious diseases are in the planning stages. “This is all about better access to care and decreasing wait times for children and their families,” said Barbara Buechler, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at NHRMC. “Decreasing the waiting time to see the doctor also decreases the parent’s anxiety about his or her child’s health. Parents will also appreciate the convenience of staying in Wilmington while receiving the same level of care as if they had driven to Chapel Hill.” For more information on NHRMC’s Pediatric Telemedicine Program, please call 343.4517.