TeleNICU 2
Care providers at M Health Fairview Woodwinds Hospital practice using the virtual Tele-NICU platform ahead of implementing it later this fall.

Breakthrough Innovation, News and Events

Tele-NICU program will provide instant, expert care for complex births – no matter where

The new M Health Fairview Tele-NICU program will allow delivery teams across our system and beyond to instantly contact a neonatologist for expert support during a complicated birth.

  • September 14, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

Families and physicians can often detect and plan for potential complications during and after birth. They may uncover an issue during a prenatal appointment or spot something on an early ultrasound. When that happens, care teams and families work together to create a safe delivery plan for the weeks ahead.

But when unexpected complications arise, quick access to the right experts is critical. Now, an innovative M Health Fairview Tele-NICU program will make it easy for care teams across the state to instantly connect with one of our neonatologists – physicians who are specialized in handling complex and high-risk births.

Using a mobile videoconferencing device, care teams encountering complex situations at other hospitals can virtually connect with a neonatologist at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital. There is a physician staffing the line 24/7. The technology allows care teams at participating hospitals to share the patient’s vital signs and close-up, high-quality video of the delivery room in real time – which the neonatologist can access from their office, home computer, or smartphone.

“M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital has a level 4 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which is the highest level of care and support possible,” said M Health Fairview Neonatologist Erin Osterholm, MD, medical director of the NICU at Masonic Children’s Hospital. “We want to be able to provide the same expert support for unexpected pre-term babies and complicated deliveries at other facilities, extending our services to make accessing care easier for the families we see.”

The Tele-NICU program launched at M Health Fairview Ridges Hospital in June and will be expanding to other hospitals throughout our system in the coming months – including M Health Fairview Woodwinds Hospital this fall. The goal is to then expand beyond our system, to other hospitals who refer patients to M Health Fairview neonatologists – offering them specialized care from the very start of a child’s life.

The new technology making the Tele-NICU program possible was funded through the University of Minnesota Foundation and the 3M Open golf tournament

The Tele-NICU program will work together with our other pre-existing supports for labor and delivery patients – and newborns – with complex needs. There is already an on-call neonatologist available 24/7 to come to Ridges Hospital, Woodwinds Hospital, M Health Fairview St. John’s Hospital and M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital in the event of an emergency. With the addition of the Tele-NICU program, care teams can work virtually with a neonatologist at the children’s hospital as they wait for the on-call neonatologist to arrive in person.

“In the past, you would be on the phone with the delivery team, getting an update as you’re driving and trying to get all the information you need without taking the care team away from the family,” said Osterholm. “Now, another neonatologist can support the family and on-site providers until the on-call neonatologist arrives in-person. At our facilities without a NICU, we’ll be able to support the family and delivery team until an in-person transport team arrives.”

When the on-call physician arrives, the neonatologist on the video call can seamlessly transfer care – explaining the situation and freeing up the delivery team to continue working hands-on with the patient.

“Our goal is to roll the Tele-NICU program out at a new site every two to three months,” said M Health Fairview Neonatologist Erin Stepka, MD, PhD, regional medical director of neonatology. Stepka also serves as medical director of neonatal program development and clinical services. “In a complicated or high-risk delivery, it’s important to get specialized expertise to the bedside as soon as possible. We want patients to have equal access to world-class care – no matter where they live.”