On May 27, 14-year-old Serena Ellsworth underwent facial reanimation surgery performed by Alison Snyder-Warwick, MD, Washington University pediatric plastic surgeon. Serena has Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that impairs facial movement. For Serena, the surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH) was the first step toward her being able to smile.

After spending nine days recovering at SLCH, Serena returned to her hometown of Kansas City, Mo. She wouldn’t need to see Dr. Snyder-Warwick for several weeks, and then just for a quick follow up to make sure the incision was healing properly—a total of about 30 minutes in the doctor’s office but more than an eight-hour round-trip drive between Kansas City and St. Louis. Compounding the travel dilemma was the fact that Serena’s father, Jim, works in Carlsbad, N.M., which meant a 15-hour drive for him just to get back to Kansas City in order 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. 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 robust telemedicine service, eHealth, that facilitates specialist visits to the health system’s outreach clinics located within a 150-mile radius of Kansas City. Over the past several years, Children’s Hospital has been developing telemedicine capabilities to aid its own outreach efforts. A solution was in the making.

“Members of the BJC Collaborative 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, explaining the situation and asking if a telemedicine session was possible, I knew it could be arranged.”

Coordination of schedules for all those involved—Dr. Snyder-Warwick, the Children’s and Saint Luke’s telemedicine programs, and the Ellsworths—ensued, with a resulting telemedicine visit on August 13. The medical director of Saint Luke’s eHealth Services, Gary Ripple, MD, took Serena’s vital signs and assisted Dr. Snyder-Warwick.

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

“This is 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 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 St. Louis Children’s Hospital to see Dr. Snyder-Warwick in person and begin physical therapy. But the possibility of future telemedicine visits exists as she continues toward 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 be able to develop an online app whereby each facility can see an open schedule and coordinate patients in that way. This will be a wonderful benefit to patients and families served by the BJC Collaborative.”

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