Objective: This is an evaluation of a telemedicine system for the rapid interpretation of neonatal echocardiograms from a regional, level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The use of telemedicine to support the cardiology needs of NICUs is increasing. However, there is very little published objective information regarding health outcomes or costs resulting from such telemedicine systems. The primary hypothesis tested was that the utilization of a telemedicine system for the interpretation of neonatal echocardiograms reduces the intensive care length of stay of low birthweight (LBW) infants. Study design: All infants who were admitted to neonatal intensive care at New Hanover Regional Medical Center during the first six months of the system were studied by the use of echocardiograms. They were compared with infants who were born in the same period of the previous year. The outcome measures were the intensive care length of stay, rate of transfer to academic medical centers, and mortality rate. Results: A statistically non-significant reduction of 5.4 days in the intensive care length of stay (LOS) of low birthweight infants was observed (p = 0.37). The cost per echocardiogram transmitted was calculated at $33 compared to previous method of sending videotapes via overnight courier. Conclusions: While the sample size was inadequate to demonstrate improvements in health outcomes, the magnitude of the change and the low costs of the system suggest that this intervention is practical for obtaining rapid diagnostic and treatment support. Larger studies are warranted to confirm these findings and determine whether faster diagnosis and earlier initiation of treatment improve health outcomes of newborn infants.
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