Doctors hopeful telemedicine could lower pregnancy-related deaths

Posted at 7:26 PM, Nov 30, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- Despite advancements in medicine, the number of women dying from complicated pregnancies has more than doubled in the United States primarily because of access to healthcare in more rural areas.

But now doctors are using telecommunications to reach patients they cannot see in person – and the practice hopes to save lives.

Mother-to-be Kelly Rust is seeing a physician who specializes in maternal fetal medicine.

Her pregnancy, while healthy, is considered higher risk.

"My husband and I really hadn't had a good scan of our daughter or our son until we came here ," Rust said. "And then we were really able to see their frame and all their little parts. It just made the whole experience so much better."

But on a recent visit, Rust saw her doctor remotely.

Dr. J.T. Christmas was able to examine Rust and her 26-week-old baby using ultrasound without being in the same location.

Telemedicine allows doctors to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using telecommunications technology.

"Our goal is to provide virtually the same experience that we can provide to the patient in the next room,” Dr. Christmas said.

According to statistics, over 700 women a year die of complications related to pregnancy. It is estimated two-thirds of those death are preventable.

Unfortunately, women in more rural areas don't have access to perinatal specialists.

"There's a short supply of us," Dr. Christmas said.

But using telemedicine, Dr. Christmas can help care for patients in underserved areas or consult with other physicians when needed.

"We've got to think about better ways to be able to offer those services to those who aren't in the primary care hospitals, but to practices that are out in more rural areas and smaller hospitals throughout the region," Dr. Christmas added.

For Rust, the doctor's visit still offers peace of mind.

"I definitely feel I’m getting the same amount of care virtually or in person," Rust said.

While telemedicine has been around nearly two decades, HCA is among the first hospitals encouraging telemedicine in the area of perinatal health in hopes for better outcomes for expectant mothers and their babies.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.