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Kadlec Talks to Specialists Via Video


By Sara Schilling, Herald staff writer

RICHLAND -- Apollo Muse squirmed in his isolette as a cardiac sonographer performed a test on the 2-week-old infant's heart.

Another baby -- Apollo's neighbor in the neonatal intensive care unit at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland -- let out a wail.

Dr. Mark Lewin, the pediatric cardiologist consulting on the exam, smiled. "Is that Baby Apollo?" he asked. 

Lewin couldn't tell who was making the noise because he wasn't actually in the room. He was at Seattle Children's Hospital, and was talking with the sonographer and Apollo's parents via a mobile video conference system.

The system -- known at Kadlec as "Johnny 5," likely a nod to the character from the 1980s film Short Circuit -- allows Lewin and specialists like him to help care for patients in smaller hospitals hundreds of miles away.

It's one of the ways Kadlec and other hospitals are harnessing technology to improve patient care.

Sometimes patients in smaller hospitals need a specialist but don't have access to one, Lewin said. "The solution is providing other ways to provide care," he said.

Officials demonstrated the video conferencing system Friday while Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski was visiting Seattle Children's. He was promoting an FCC proposal to improve broadband connectivity in rural medical facilities.

Seattle Children's uses video conferencing to work with hospitals from Richland to Alaska. The technology debuted at Kadlec a couple of years ago and is used primarily in the NICU.

Apollo's parents, Jake and Misha Muse of Kennewick, sat next to his isolette Friday during the demonstration. The baby weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces when he was born premature last month, but he's been gaining weight steadily and now is 3 pounds, 4 ounces. 

His parents have been told he should be able to come home in September.

They've been at his side every day since he was born. Misha Muse said she is grateful Kadlec has video conferencing capability so her family doesn't have to trek to Seattle for a consultation with a pediatric cardiologist.

"It's pretty cool that we don't have to travel up there to do it all," she said.

Johnny 5 isn't Kadlec's only video conferencing system. The hospital also has robotic video conference systems, which are mobile devices similar to Johnny 5 that can be remotely controlled. They're so sophisticated that doctors can examine wounds and skin through the screens.

One of them is onsite in Richland and the other is in Dayton, allowing physicians there to consult with specialists at Kadlec.

The Richland hospital plans to get more in the coming months.

Eventually, "they're going to become as commonplace as telephones," said Dave Roach, Kadlec's vice president of information systems.