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A remote patient monitoring program for babies who’ve had heart surgery has helped reduce infant mortality by some 40 percent, according to the American Heart Association.

In a scientific statement published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that an interstage home monitoring (IHM) program, which gives parents mHealth tools and instructs them on how to monitor important health parameters including an infant’s oxygen saturation levels, caloric intake and weight gain, played a significant role in improving overall health outcomes.

The program also trained parents to identify certain warning signs, such as respiratory changes, sweating, fussiness, diarrhea, fever or changes in skin color, and notify the care team immediately.

The study, led by Nancy Rudd, MS, CPNP-PC/AC, the nurse coordinator for the IHM program at the Herma Heart Institute at Children’s Wisconsin, found that the telehealth program produced an increase in hospitalizations, but most were for observation or minimal interventions, and there were fewer readmissions for major adverse events.

In addition, the study found that the telehealth platform led to an unexpected 28 percent improvement in infant weight gain – the result, perhaps, of frequent monitoring and the ability to adjust care management plans to optimize nutrition.

“Prior to interstage home monitoring programs, the outpatient management of interstage infants was the same as that of much less complex patients,” Rudd said in an AHA press release. “Unfortunately, the tenuous nature of these infants means they can get very sick very quickly from even minor childhood illness like the common cold.”

Children’s Wisconsin implemented its IHM program in 2000, according to the release, following a study that found mortality rates as high as 16 percent in infants recovering from surgery for heart defects.

Rudd’s research focused on some 50 IHM programs launched between 2008 and 2016.

“IHM is an innovative strategy developed to augment conventional outpatient management and to assist with early detection of physiologic changes associated with morbidity and mortality following successful (surgery),” she concluded in her report. “There is overwhelming evidence of improvement in single ventricle infant survival and growth outcomes with IHM programs.”

“This surveillance strategy has become the standard of care for most pediatric cardiac programs and continues to evolve using telehealth platforms such as phone technology and tablet‐based real‐time video encounters in an effort to optimize data collection and visual assessment of the infant at home,” she added. 

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