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Long Distance Medicine

– Doctors Treat Patients Across the Miles –

May 1, 2013 Saint Peter's Healthcare System Community Calendar Featured Article.

The emergency call to Siva Jonna, M.D., came from a nearby hospital during the late night, actually early morning, but the sun hadn’t come up yet. Dr. Jonna, chief of Pediatric Critical Care and clinical director of Pediatric Telemedicine at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, got out of bed and put on a shirt and tie. He never left the house, though. Using technology known as telemedicine, he communicated with doctors treating the small baby in respiratory distress that he could see and hear on his computer.

TeleMedicine at Saint Peter's

Disease isn’t medicine’s only foe; distance, too, can sometimes work against healthcare providers. And even when distance isn’t an issue, hospitals offer different specialties, so that sometimes the best doctor for a given patient in an emergency is at another institution down the road or far away. The telemedicine program at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s uses advanced telecommunications and information systems to provide clinical health care at a distance and thus improve access to medical services. Through the program, the pediatric specialists at The Children’s Hospital can care for children at multiple hospitals and locations, including CentraState Medical Center in Freehold.

When a child recently arrived at CentraState suffering seizures, Dr. Jonna was asked to help diagnose the problem. In a special room at Saint Peter’s equipped with computers and monitors, Dr. Jonna could see all of the young patient’s vital signs and imaging scans in real time. Telemedicine equipment such as secure video conference technology allows specialists such as Dr. Jonna to see what the doctors treating the patient see and to talk to other healthcare providers during examinations to assess symptoms.

This new technology helps the doctor who is communicating remotely to work as if he or she is in the exam room. So via a camera-equipped stethoscope at CentraState, Dr. Jonna was able to conduct his own virtual physical exam on the patient. These special stethoscopes equipped with microphones enable a far-away doctor to instantly hear a patient’s heart or lungs. Other equipment, including special ophthalmoscopes, which come with a light source and a camera, allow the doctor to see inside a patient’s eye in real time.

“The child had multiple problems with his heart and brain, and we helped diagnose increased fluid in the brain that required surgery,” Dr. Jonna explains. The young patient was transported to Saint Peter’s for the surgery. “We also were able to talk to the parents and the hospital staff and answer all their questions. The parents were very happy they could communicate with us before they even came here.” The child, he says, is now fine.

“The use of this technology, offering real-time treatment, visualization and interaction, is a real advance in helping to achieve better outcomes in children,” says Bipin Patel, M.D., chairman of Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s. “Not all hospitals have physicians in every pediatric specialty, so this can put physicians and hospitals in a position to interact with a wide array of appropriate specialists.”

As a state-designated acute care children’s hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital offers a full range of pediatric specialized services for newborns and children through young adulthood. The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s operates one of the largest, most advanced neonatal intensive care units in the country. Our state-designated Regional Perinatal Center is renowned throughout New Jersey for the exceptional level of high-risk maternity and neonatal care provided.

Telemedicine’s technology doesn’t just reach specialists in a special room at the hospital. “We also have the capability to access service through desktop computers and iPads,” says Dr. Patel. “The physician can be at any location where an Internet connection exists. We have access 24/7, even at home or on the road.” Case in point: that call that Dr. Jonna received in the middle of the night when he got out of bed to consult with doctors.

Saint Peter’s hopes to expand its telemedicine programs to other community hospitals. “With a continued national shortage of pediatric specialists, creating a virtual pediatric specialty program is ultimately the key way to provide care for kids throughout the state,” says David Jaipersaud, administrative director of the Department of Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital. “In the future, we hope to advance to a level where we can provide routine outpatient specialty care—and perhaps someday even home care.”

Imagine that: your child at home, being treated by a specialist who is miles away. “It’s almost like our physician is in the room with them,” says Dr. Jonna. “And the most important thing is, the child benefits.”

To learn more about the telemedicine program at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, call 732-565-KIDS (5437), ext. 8783 or visit