Ava Hausmann still remembers her first appointment with Gillette orthopedic surgeon Tom Novacheck, MD. But it’s not the clinical dialogue or careful review of her X-rays that stands out in her mind. Instead, it’s the unique way in which she communicated with Novacheck—remotely through telemedicine.
“It was kind of like Facetime!” remarks Ava, whose hometown of Bonesteel, South Dakota, is seven hours from Gillette in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ava is an active 10-year-old who enjoys boating, camping, sports and reading. She has hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Ava’s mom, Cari Hausmann, was impressed too. “Ava thought it was cool that she could talk to her doctor all the way in the Twin Cities.”
Specialty care from afar
For families of children like Ava who live in greater Minnesota or outside the state, an appointment at Gillette involves more than a few hours of missed school or work. It requires hours of drive time—sometimes even airplane travel—and nights spent in a hotel. All that can add up.
To save families the time and cost of frequent travel, Gillette is expanding its telemedicine services. This November, Robert Wood, MD and Walter Truong, MD will begin seeing patients in need of craniofacial and orthopedic consultations respectively through a partnership with Essentia Health Baxter Clinic in Baxter, Minnesota. A third Gillette physician, John Garcia, MD, will see patients in Baxter for sleep health concerns.
Technology breaks down barriers
Telemedicine—the diagnosis and treatment of patients remotely using advanced communications technology—isn’t a new concept for Gillette. Garcia currently sees patients via telemedicine in Duluth and Mankato, Minnesota. Novacheck has been seeing patients via telemedicine for more than 10 years. Both physicians, who recently presented at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual meeting, believe the service is an important one.
“Telemedicine eliminates barriers created by distance and improves access to specialty care that might otherwise be unavailable in some communities,” says Novacheck. “Given that Gillette treats children from around the U.S. and world, the ability to conduct certain appointments remotely provides added convenience and value.”
Partnership with local providers is key
Novacheck collaborates with Julie Johnson, MD, a rehabilitation medicine physician at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to assess patients who have cerebral palsy or other complex conditions. Children like Ava, a longtime patient of Johnson’s, receive the majority of their care remotely before coming to Gillette for surgery. Johnson referred Ava to Gillette when, despite bracing and casting treatments, she continued to struggle with walking.
“We had hit a wall with keeping Ava comfortable and getting things aligned properly,” says Hausmann. “We were running out of options.”
Johnson facilitated Ava’s first appointment with Novacheck, acting as on-site liaison. “Right away I could see the two physicians worked very well together,” adds Hausman.
Collaboration with local providers is essential when holding telemedicine appointments in Baxter, as well. A pediatric nurse assesses patients’ vitals, handles intake questions and helps with other on-site needs. The result is a productive appointment and clear next steps for families without the cost or burden of travel.
Giving Ava her childhood back
Results of a gait analysis evaluation indicated that Ava could benefit from orthopedic surgery to address several issues with her right leg. Novacheck performed the procedure when Ava was 7—and once again, telemedicine streamlined the process significantly.
“Four weeks after Ava’s surgery we did a follow-up telemedicine appointment at Dr. Johnson’s office in Sioux Falls,” recalls Hausmann. “Even that two-hour drive is easy compared to loading up the car for days of travel to St. Paul.”
Ava and her family have seen visible improvement—less pain, better mobility and endurance—since the surgery. They say it’s given Ava her childhood back. “Before my surgery, whenever I would run or play my foot would start to hurt. I would get tired easily,” says Ava. “When I could play sports again and run, I felt excited!”
“How did she function that way?”Today, Ava continues regular check-ins with Novacheck through telemedicine. She and her mom agree that he has “rock star status” in their book. “Seeing Ava’s pre- and post-surgery gait analysis videos blew our minds,” says Hausmann. “How did she ever function that way?