For Physicians: Transplant Telemedicine Technology Connects Remote Patients to Lifesaving Care
The University of Maryland Medical Center’s Division of Transplantation is expanding through the windows of telemedicine to offer more patients than ever, access to organ transplantation. Potential candidates outside of Maryland can now meet remotely with a transplant surgeon and telemedicine nurse coordinator to determine if it would be beneficial for them to list for an organ transplant at UMMC.
After the transplant team has patient records and imaging films in its possession and the patient signs a telehealth consent form, the potential candidate needs only an email address and a phone or computer with a web camera to complete a one-hour eVisit. The video-based technology used in these encounters protects patient privacy with the appropriate firewalls so that it is fully HIPAA-compliant.
"We've always communicated remotely with our out-of-state patients in more informal ways,” says Rolf Barth, MD, Professor of Surgery and head of UMMC’s Division of Transplantation. “But the eVisits allow us to explain to patients their X-rays and better share lab results. The benefit is they can see content, and they receive the exact same information as if they were physically here in our clinic.”
The eVisit program is of particular benefit to patients in need of a liver or kidney transplant, who have been denied listing at other centers. Because UMMC is able to handle living donor transplantation and takes an extended view of which donor organs can be transplanted, many patients are able to have a transplant significantly sooner than otherwise.
Patients have their lab work and other preop medical tests done in their hometown, where they would also meet with a social worker as well as with a nephrologist, hepatologist and/or cardiologist as necessary. Initial consultations, preop evaluations, and postop appointments for both recipients and living donors can all be done via eVisit.
The division first offered eVisits in 2015, but according to Shawniece Whitted, the division’s telemedicine nurse coordinator who accompanies Dr. Barth on the video calls, these eVisits have become more frequent since she began assisting with them in March 2018. Most eVisit encounters occur directly from the patient’s own home, although the UMMC Division of Transplantation also partners with the Chambersburg Nephrology Clinic in Pennsylvania to offer clinic-to-clinic eVisits once a month for their patients.
The UMMC transplant team also makes things easier for patients outside the Baltimore area by routinely conducting initial consultations with patients at 13 regionally based clinics, three of which are in Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey. However, the eVisit program has proven valuable in allowing patients scattered across the United States and the world to better access UMMC’s top-of-the-line transplant care.