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Pediatric Telemedicine Program Offers Efficient Way to Diagnose and Manage Common Childhood Illnesses

Doctors in the U.S. are increasingly turning to the Internet to help keep children healthy. It's called telemedicine and as Amy Katz reports it is bringing doctors and patients together through the use of modern technology.

For this little boy, Jonathan, a runny nose would normally mean a phone call from his day care center asking his mother to take him home. But, now, the center can make a different call and get him medical attention right there.

The Day Care Provider contacts the Doctor at University of Rochester Medical Center to see if he can do a live visit via the Internet.

Jonathan is one of nearly a thousand pre-school children in upstate Rochester, New York who can have a live visit with a doctor without ever leaving their day care center. The Provider inserts the ear thermometer to take his temperature. Audio, video and medical images are sent over the Internet to a physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The Doctor inquires about the child's previous medical condition, "Has he had problems with ear infections in the past?" The Provider responds "Yes, he has had one in the past."

The child's mother, Fayla Bermudez, thinks the new service is great. In the past she says she would have had to go to the emergency room.

A new study shows that each telemedicine visit saved parents four and a half hours of missed work. And for the children, health related absences were down 63-percent.

One mother, Erika Haines, says, "They {the children} get seen, they get their medicine. They feel better and everybody is happy."

Rochester doctor Neil Herendeen says telemedicine keeps people from using hospital emergency rooms for treatment, which saves insurance companies a great deal of money. "You can do a lot of telemedicine for the cost of one E.R. visit. And that's what got our local insurers on board."

But pediatricians like Charles Shubin says the high-tech medical visits are no substitute for hands on care. "Ill children, I think, deserve better than a mechanical, electronic process of health care."

The University of Rochester Medical Center doctors disagree, saying most of the time; remote visits are just as effective as face-to-face visits.

The programs cost a lot to start up; the U.S. federal government has funded Rochester’s. It is about expand beyond the city's limits and perhaps will become a model for similar programs across the U.S.