Virtual medicine helps rural kids hear

Technology can be both a boon and a pain, depending on who you talk to and what kind of tech you’re talking about.

But in sparsely-populated rural areas, where healthcare is hard to come by, technology has proven to be a major help.

Take, for example, five-week-old Grace Lee, who lives well north of Sacramento.  Post-birth tests indicated she had some hearing trouble and would need attention from a pediatric audiologist.

But because there is no such specialist at the Mercy Hospital in Redding, where little Grace is staying, she and her family were beamed into an office at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento using videoconferencing technology.

The UC-Davis program fills a need that often would otherwise go unmet.  For hearing issues alone, anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of children who don’t pass newborn hearing screenings don’t get the follow-up care that they need, according to a UC-Davis doctor.  That can lead to developmental problems down the line as the child grows up without fully functioning hearing.

The telemedicine program helps to cut that number down, if only by a few patients at a time.  They currently serve seven patients through remote videoconferencing.

When patients have a remote consult with their doctors at UC-Davis, technicians on site act as the doctor’s hands, attaching electrodes, linking wires to the laptop, and making sure the camera is seeing the right spot.

Teleconferencing does have its drawbacks, especially when the audiologist can’t do the hands-on work themselves.

Anne Simon, a pediatric audiologist who works with the program, told the Bay Citizen:

“Audiologists by nature are very controlling.  It’s a little tiny baby and we want it to be done right.”

But when the health and wellbeing of a child like Grace is at stake, it’s certainly better than nothing.