Telehealth Saves Lives

If you’ve heard of telehealth or telemedicine, you’ve probably heard of many of the benefits it provides, including saving time and money for the patient. What you may not have heard of is how telehealth is saving lives.

For a couple of great examples, we’re going to look at the Telemedicine Network created by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). According to their website, the OHSU Telemedicine Network “provides immediate patient access to pediatric, neonatal, stroke, trauma, neurosurgery and other specialists throughout Oregon 24/7.” Their network connects Oregon hospitals and other health facilities from Astoria to Ontario. This network also includes one hospital in Washington.

Telehealth Saved Baby MaLea’s Life in 2011

The first success story we’d like to relate happened in the summer of 2011. MaLea Fox, then 7 months old, woke up fussy with a 102.4° fever. Her mother rushed her to a hospital in Seaside where it was determined that she had a virus. Four hours after returning home, her parents found it difficult to awaken her from a nap. They decided to take her to a second hospital, this one located in Astoria and part of the OHSU Telemedicine Network.

The physician on duty chose to contact Dr. Jennifer Needle, a pediatric intensivist at OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. With the help of Dr. Needle, the child was diagnosed with a life-threatening bacterial infection called meningococcemia. Before MaLea was transferred to the Portland facility, a breathing tube was inserted at Dr. Needle’s request. Due to foggy weather, the medical transfer took six hours instead of the normal two, and the incubation may have saved her life.

Telehealth Used to Treat Stroke Victim in 2014

In February of 2014, Cory Cotton was visiting his 81-year-old father, Glen Cotton. The two men were chatting when Cory suddenly realized that his father was no longer engaged in the conversation. At that point, things progressed rapidly. Cory called 911, and Glen was transported by ambulance to Bay Area Hospital, which is part of the OHSU Telemedicine Network.

It turned out that Glen had had a stroke caused by a blood clot lodged in an artery in his brain. Things weren’t looking good. Half of his face sagged, his speech was slurred, he couldn’t use his left arm, and he couldn’t see out of his left eye. When a patient has had a stroke like Glen’s, time is critical. Generally speaking, treatment needs to occur within three hours in order to prevent permanent damage.

Dr. William Aurich chose to contact Dr. Kory Herrick, a neurologist at OHSU in Portland, via the telemedicine network. The two doctors decided on a plan of action. Dr. Aurich would administer a clot-busting drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) and Glen would be flown to OHSU for surgery to remove the clot.

Everything happened right for Glen. He had the benefits of a speedy ambulance response, a fast and accurate diagnosis by Dr. Aurich, and a telehealth connection to Dr. Herrick. Two days after surgery, he returned home; less than two months later, he was playing golf; and about two weeks after that, he was able to walk nine holes.

These are just two examples of how telehealth is saving lives. Another way that telemental health can save, or at least greatly impact, lives is through providing counseling to those in need who may not have access to quality services where they live.