Technology advances have had a significant effect on just about every aspect of pediatric health care. Here are three ways children's hospitals are using cutting-edge technology to keep patients safe.
Implantable smartphone-connected cardiac monitors
New smartphone-enabled monitors link doctors directly with their patients—allowing for immediate diagnosis and treatment of dangerous episodes of syncope (fainting) or heart arrhythmias.
"It reinvigorates me as a pediatric electrophysiologist to be able to tell a family, ‘When you call, you will hear from me within five or 10 minutes, and I will tell you exactly what is going on," says Chris Snyder, M.D., chief of pediatric cardiology at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital (UH Rainbow) in Cleveland. "For a child or young adult, this is the greatest thing ever."
Doctors at UH Rainbow were the first in the United States to use the implantable monitor on a pediatric patient in November 2017. Since then, Snyder has implanted two additional patients with the technology, which he says has two distinct advantages over other implantable devices—its size and smartphone compatibility.
Read more about implantable heart monitors.
Smart pills for medication adherence
"In the kidney transplant population," says Dev Desai, M.D., chief of pediatric transplantation at Children's Health in Dallas, "it's been well studied and published that the number one reason teenagers and young adults lose their transplanted organs is due to medication non-adherence." To address the serious complications that transplant patients can experience if they don't take their medications properly, Children's Health has begun using smart pill technology.
With a smart pill, the patient's daily medications include a tiny sensor that, when ingested, transmits a signal to a patch worn on his or her torso. From there, the information from the sensor is sent to the patient's tablet and then on to the doctors at Children's Health.
The technology allows the patient's care team to monitor his or her heart rate, sleep levels and even measure levels of physical activity. The tablet alerts the patient if he or she has missed a scheduled dose, and it flags the care team of any missed or inaccurate doses.
Since introducing the technology nearly two years ago, Children's Health has prescribed smart pills for more than 40 pediatric kidney and liver transplant patients. Additionally, the hospital has expanded the program to include pre-transplant patients. According to Desai, smart pills can help those patients understand the importance of medication adherence.
Read more about smart pills.
3-D printing for tumor surgeries
Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, is pioneering the use of 3-D printers to create models of tumors for surgeons to study prior to the procedures to remove them. Children's is also the first to build multi-colored 3-D models on site that can be taken apart, organ by organ. This helps the surgical team plan what needs to be done to remove the tumor long before setting foot in the operating room.
When faced with a complex cancerous tumor embedded in a child's neck, Shahab Abdessalam, M.D., a surgeon and surgical oncologist at Children's, requested to have a 3-D model of the tumor printed.
"He needed to plan out his surgical approach, and he was thinking about how to best get to the major part of the tumor without damaging critical vessels and nerves," says Richard Azizkhan, M.D., president and CEO of Children's.
Since October 2016, the technology has been used nine times for tumor surgeries at Children's and has helped the surgical team perform complicated tumor procedures more safely. In all tumor surgeries where the 3-D models were used, Abdessalam says no blood vessels have been injured, and there have been no major complications for any patients. Though the average length of stay for such a surgery would be about two to three weeks, these patients have gone home in anywhere from four to seven days.
Read more about using 3-D printers for tumor surgeries. You can also see a demonstration of Children's Omaha's 3-D printers, and some models they've created.
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