WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) - UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital is expanding its use of telemedicine, which allows physicians in different parts of the country to video conference a patient for care.
Starting Feb. 25, Allen is adding six telehospitalists to its team. The board-certified physicians will provide general inpatient care for patients in different wings of the hospital from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The telehospitalists work for a company called Eagle Telemedicine. They're caring for patients in Waterloo, but they're stationed in other states.
"There's [a telehospitalist] in Oklahoma, some in Florida, one in North Carolina and one in South Carolina," hospitalist medical director Dr. Pradeep Ramesh said.
With a special cart equipped with diagnostic tools, telehospitalists act as bedside physicians. They can communicate with their patients, who are admitted into Allen, using a videoconferencing monitor and high-definition camera.
"I can pan, I can zoom, I can see everyone in the room," Dr. Ramesh said. "There's really no limits to what we can do."
The six remote physicians will work closely with on-site care teams at Allen.
Nurses will help telehospitalists conduct full physical and neurological examinations, and with special equipment, they can also listen to a patient's heartbeat and breathing.
"Just like I have an actual stethoscope... the nurse has a Bluetooth stethoscope there and when she puts it on the patient's chest, I can hear the heart sounds as well, if not better, than the stethoscope that I normally use," Dr. Ramesh explained.
While some may be skeptical about telemedicine, one patient who tried the technology on Monday said he was pleased with his care.
"I don't find a problem with it whatsoever," Jim Reynolds said. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Working only during overnight hours, the remote physicians will help fill staffing gaps in the hospital, allowing patients to get faster personal care. Before the new program, patients may have waited for on-call doctors to travel to Allen.
"When we have these large volume of patients and we have a lot going on in different floors, this is now allowing this doctor, they're not walking from point A to point B," registered nurse Taylor Harrell said. "You bring in the camera and [the telehospitalists] beam in."
The hospital is staffing physicians all day, and physician specialists will be on-call for emergency situations.
UnityPoint Health is also using telehospitalists in Fort Dodge and Marshalltown.