After more than a decade working at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri, Kristi Baker moved back to her home state, accepting a position at The Children's Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Little did she know, she’d soon be bringing a piece of Children’s Mercy with her to the Sooner State.
“The Children’s Hospital had been recruiting for a pediatric neurologist for several years and was sending most kids needing this service to providers out of town or out of state,” says Baker, M.S.J., LSSBB, vice president, Women’s and Children’s Services, Saint Francis Health System.
“Even then, it was often months before those patients could be seen, so I reached out to my former colleagues at Children's Mercy to see how they might be able to share their robust telemedicine program with us.”
Working with the strategic planning team and chief neurologist at Children’s Mercy, Baker was able to establish an arrangement. Now, when a patient presents at The Children’s Hospital with neurological issues, the attending physician can request a neurological consult and within an hour, have someone from Children’s Mercy at the bedside, virtually, to assist with an exam, neurological workup and read the patient’s EEG.
With pediatric neurologists in such high demand across the country, Baker says the partnership provides a better solution for patients and families.
Program helps with recruiting efforts
There are four pediatric neurologists in the entire state of Oklahoma—and only one of them is in Tulsa. But this problem is not unique to Oklahoma; the number of medical school graduates entering residency programs in pediatric neurology each year nationally is only about 100—and many of those end up in larger health care systems.
It can be a self-perpetuating cycle. Recruiting a new pediatric neurologist to a program with no bench depth can put institutions like The Children’s Hospital at a disadvantage competing for specialists where the talent is scarce.
But the telehealth arrangement with Children’s Mercy changes that. Not only can The Children’s Hospital assure potential recruits they won’t be inundated with on-call work when they’re supposed to be off, but it can provide comfort in knowing they won’t be going it alone.
“This partnership isn’t just a replacement for an in-house neurologist; it’s actually a great recruitment tool as well—having the ability to collaborate with a nationally-ranked hospital is an attractive feature for candidates considering our program,” Baker says. “Knowing that we are just one call away from a team of 28 experts in Kansas City 24/7 is a comfort not only for our doctors but also for our patients and their families.”
Leading to improved outcomes
The Children’s Hospital and Children’s Mercy have performed about 75 teleneurology consults since the program’s launch in October 2021. Baker says The Children’s Hospital is working to staff up its own subspecialty practices, including neurology, but in the meantime the hospital’s telehealth relationship allows it to provide services that otherwise would likely require patients to travel to another facility.