The American West’s wide-open spaces have attracted those who crave a quieter life, without the bustle of large cities. However, being far from a major-city hospital and its many medical specialists can be unsettling when a medical emergency occurs — especially when that emergency involves your child.
But thanks to air transport and technology that enables St. Vincent Healthcare doctors to connect with specialists hundreds of miles away, specialized help can come faster now. St. Vincent Healthcare’s HELP Flight program transports trauma patients via helicopter or small planes and covers a large area with remote locations, including northeastern Montana.
“It's a very remote area and is actually considered not even rural but frontier,” said Barry McKenzie, MD, general and trauma surgeon and trauma medical director at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
“We have 24/7 pediatric ICU coverage where we have a pediatric intensivist trained in taking care of kids on ventilators, which is unique to the region,” he said. “We're the only place within the eastern side of Montana that has that.”
For pediatric patients, St. Vincent can treat those with critical and surgical needs through a unique collaboration with Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“It’s been really helpful to be able to tap into their expertise,” Dr. McKenzie said.
Kathryn Russell, MD, a pediatric surgeon at Primary Children’s, does rotations at St. Vincent and called the program “awesome,” adding: “We’re able to perform nearly all pediatric surgeries right there at St. Vincent.”
Another way St. Vincent treats trauma patients with the help of specialists at Primary Children’s is through telemedicine. “We have hardwired connections with video so that neurosurgeons there can see the patient and do an exam,” Dr. McKenzie said.
Dr. Russell says she likes the flexibility the collaboration offers. “If the doctors see trauma patients, need help, they can also call us on telemedicine, and we can help them in any way they need.” In some cases, doctors decide the patient should be transferred to Primary Children’s for a higher level of care, but most of the time they are able to be treated at St. Vincent.
Primary Children’s radiologists also give a second opinion on films and scans to confirm diagnoses and courses of action, Dr. McKenzie said.
All facets of St. Vincent’s pediatric treatment emphasize being able to “keep our kids closer to home,” he added. “Studies show if you can keep patients closer to home, especially kids, they do better.”
It also eases the family’s financial burden when the patient stays close to home, he said.