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Sep 2015

After Girl’s Surgery, Family Benefits from BJC Collaborative

On May 27, 14-year-old Serena Ellsworth underwent facial reanimation surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital performed by Washington University pediatric plastic surgeon Alison Snyder-Warwick, MD. Serena has Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that leaves patients unable to move their face. For Serena, the surgery at SLCH was the first step toward being able to smile.

After spending nine days recovering at SLCH, Serena went home to Kansas City. Weeks later, she would need to return to St. Louis so Dr. Snyder-Warwick could ensure the incision was healing properly. The appointment would last just 30 minutes, but would involve about eight hours of driving roundtrip from Kansas City.

Compounding the travel dilemma: Serena’s father, Jim, works in Carlsbad, N.M., which meant a 15-hour drive for him just to get back to Kansas City to accompany his wife, Yvonne, and their daughter to St. Louis.

The Ellsworths were willing to “go the distance” for Serena, but Dr. Snyder-Warwick hoped for an easier solution. And that solution developed as a result of the BJC Collaborative, which includes BJC and Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City.

Since 1998, Saint Luke’s has developed a telemedicine service, eHealth, that enables specialist visits to the health system’s outreach clinics located within a 150-mile radius of Kansas City. At the same time, SLCH developed telemedicine capabilities to aid its own outreach efforts. That led to more convenient follow-up care for Serena.

“BJC Collaborative members had already met a few times to discuss the availability and capabilities of telemedicine at each facility,” says Steven Kropp, MS, system director of eHealth and outreach services at Saint Luke’s Health System. “When I received an email from Bridget Haeg (SLCH senior planning consultant) at BJC explaining the situation and asking if a telemedicine session was possible, I knew it could be arranged.”

Schedule coordination for everyone — Dr. Snyder-Warwick, the SLCH and Saint Luke’s telemedicine programs, and the Ellsworths — ensued, with a resulting telemedicine visit Aug. 13. The Saint Luke’s eHealth Services medical director, Gary Ripple, MD, took Serena’s vital signs and assisted with Dr. Snyder-Warwick’s exam needs.

“This was such a relief for us,” says Yvonne Ellsworth. “My husband didn’t have to make that long trip from Carlsbad, and we could talk with Dr. Snyder-Warwick while staying in our hometown. The exam went well — the picture was clear, and we easily understood Dr. Snyder-Warwick’s instructions.”

“This is so much more convenient for a patient like Serena who just needs a quick exam,” says Dr. Snyder-Warwick. “And it is the result of a wonderful collaboration in which St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Saint Luke’s focused on doing what was best for Serena and her family.”

Once Serena begins experiencing movement in her cheek, she will need to travel to SLCH to see Dr. Snyder-Warwick in person and begin physical therapy. Future telemedicine visits can then continue as she approaches her goal of smiling.

“We envision eventually having a system that allows us to set aside certain dates and times for telemedicine sessions between patients and subspecialists throughout the BJC Collaborative,” says Kropp. “We may even develop an online app where each facility can see an open schedule to better manage patients. This will be a wonderful benefit for them and their families.”

In addition to BJC and Saint Luke’s Health System, BJC Collaborative members include CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri.; Memorial Health System in Springfield, Illinois; Blessing Health System in Quincy, Illinois; and Southern Illinois Healthcare in Carbondale, Illinois. The Collaborative provides a means of encouraging the exploration and, ultimately, the implementation and expansion of clinical programs and services between and among the Collaborative members to improve access to and quality of health care for patients.

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