Virtual rounds let families offer input on care from afar


When Karen Giatto’s mom was admitted to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia last winter for the second time in three weeks, the family already knew the bad news.

Her bladder cancer had metastasized to her lungs and elsewhere.

The issue was, what were her best options? These were decisions her mother wanted Giatto and her sister involved in making. Those options needed to be discussed with members of her mother’s care team during daily rounds in the hospital each morning.

For Giatto, that could have meant getting the kids off to school, and then battling morning rush-traffic for an hour or more and maybe missing the doctors if traffic snarled. Her sister faced a similar challenge commuting into the city from a different direction.

“Both my sister and I were trying to get down there for rounds in the morning. We wanted to start our morning each day knowing what we were dealing with,” Giatto said, but “getting stuck in traffic happened to me a couple of times.”

Instead, the two daughters stayed home and still made five of their mom’s visits with her care team, thanks to a pilot telehealth program called “virtual rounds” that Jefferson initiated last October. Patients and doctors connect with family members using an iPad computer equipped with a video camera and telehealth software ….

Jefferson is not alone in the basic approach, according to Dr. Joseph Smith, chief medical and science officer at the not-for-profit West Health, La Jolla, Calif., which studies and promotes the use of information technology in healthcare.

“Technology is appropriately being used to connect people across distances in a lot of different formats,” Smith said. “I think telemedicine is a poly-headed Hydra.”

Last week, Smith said, he attended a demonstration of similar technology connecting patients, family members and clinicians at the University of California San Diego Medical Center, only that the inpatient monitor wasn’t an iPad, but a big flat screen TV on the wall in the patient’s room.

“I’ve seen technology where they want to put this into senior living facilities to allow the aging to stay more in tune with their families and their care givers,” Smith said. To Klasko’s point, Smith said, “Healthcare should no longer be held to the tyranny of geography. Why should we ask the sickest and weakest among us to be the body in motion?” ….

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