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The Duke Endowment’s grant– which will be matched one-to-one by UNC Health Care – will cover the full cost of telemedicine equipment for UNC Health Care affiliate hospitals for two years.
According to Alan Stiles, MD, Brewer Distinguished Professor, vice president for system affiliations, the unique nature of burn care makes for a great starting point for this technology.
“Severe burns often require multidisciplinary care with multiple specialists, and it is rare for hospitals to have the resources to fully care for these patients,” Stiles said. “Telemedicine has moved within the last few years from something that was considered kind of niche to a vital tool. We consider this a perfect use of the technology.”
More than 10,000 North Carolinians suffer a serious burn injury each year, and more than 2,000 are admitted to one of the state’s hospitals. However, fewer than 60% are admitted to a dedicated burn center.
Through the use of telemedicine, emergency department physicians at all UNC Health Care affiliates can quickly connect to specialists at the Jaycee Burn Center – one of two burn centers in North Carolina verified by the American Burn Association – who can assess the burn and either recommend an initial course of treatment or initiate the process of transferring the patient to Chapel Hill.
“We really see this as a wonderful endeavor for the health care system and great opportunity to expand the mission of the Jaycee Burn Center across North Carolina,” said Bruce Cairns, MD, director, Jaycee Burn Center.
Stiles summed up the goals of the telemedicine network.
“In simple terms, you have a patient who was well yesterday and now is not and we have to help them get the care they need. Part of that will be in the ER, part of it may be in patient services at an affiliate hospital and part of it will be a specialist at our burn center connecting via telemedicine,” Stiles said. “Our entire goal is to make that initial assessment, get the patient the care they need and get them back to functioning in the world again.”
UNC Health Care is contracting with InTouch Health on the technology which Stiles says can be deployed and maintained rather easily.
The technology works like this. When a burn patient presents in the emergency department, physicians can call for the InTouch device which is then brought to the physician’s location. At that point, a connection is made with a specialist in Chapel Hill, who can make a visual assessment of the patient and also speak with him or her via video conference.
Stiles said this resource will be helpful to physicians who may not have extensive experience dealing with burn patients.
“Emergency room physicians may be able to stabilize a patient, but don’t necessarily have the training to assess the level of long-term care that is really needed,” Stiles said.
A Jaycee Burn Center specialist will be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Stiles said that a major advantage of this technology is the flexibility it affords physicians.
“We won’t have to have someone go into a computer filled room to participate in these consultations,” Stiles said. “Doctors in Chapel Hill can do the assessments from their computers or tablets, from the hospital or even at home,” Stiles said.
Dale Williams, MD, chief medical officer, High Point Regional Hospital, said this will expand his hospital’s patient care capabilities.
“We might not have a dedicated specialist to deal with a patient’s burn injury, but this will allow us to immediately connect them to one and they can have an interaction just like if the physician was on site,” Williams said.
Williams said that he hopes this will spur increased collaboration between physicians in all UNC Health Care affiliate hospitals.
“I think the more we are all engaged, the more comfortable we will become,” Williams said. “Initiatives like this are a great way to cement those relationships.”
Stiles called this an important step for the entire UNC Health Care system and a good first step towards expanding this technology to other services and other hospitals across the state.
“We are spending a lot of time and energy trying to make sure that our high level of care is consistent across our entire system. This is one mechanism for helping us towards that goal,” Stiles said.
ABOUT THE JAYCEE BURN CENTER
Since its opening February 23, 1981, at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center has saved hundreds of lives and restored thousands of people, both children and adults, to lives of health and productivity. Through its education and outreach programs, the Burn Center has greatly improved upon the quality of emergency burn treatment across the state and has been instrumental in preventing untold numbers of burn injuries. During a recent re-certification process in 2012, it was stated that the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center is one of the best comprehensive burn centers in the world.
ABOUT THE DUKE ENDOWMENT
Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.3 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.