Women in Telemedicine who Rock

Frederick 28 December 2005Sounds like a new MTV show? Has he lost his mind this time? When I thought up the title for this interview, I wanted to do two things: 1) To get your attention and more importantly, 2) To introduce to you women in telemedicine who I consider influential, who are on the cutting edge in telemedicine today and who are reshaping the world of telemedicine today. Some are nurses, some are journalists, some have Ph.D's, some are CEO's of their own companies. However there are a few common threads, they are visionaries, they are leaders, they are committed to telemedicine. I have also had the opportunity to work with them. Intrusting enough I have never met any of them live before either. They also are friends, peers, mentors and without them I wouldn't be doing what I do today.


Bob Pyke Jr.: Tell me a little about yourself?

Dr. Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild is a nurse, health care administrator and national expert in telehealth, telemedicine and telenursing. She is Co-Founder, President & CEO of iTelehealth Inc., providing telehealth expertise in home settings and disease management. She was Clinical Director and COO of Strategic Monitored Services Inc., a Disease Management company using home telehealth technology to deliver care to high cost, chronically ill patients. Dr. Schlachta-Fairchild served as Clinical Director of Telemedicine for the Department of Defense Telemedicine Testbed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, providing clinical consultation and project management for multi-state telemedicine applications. She was Principal Investigator & Project Director for the U.S. Army for Electronic Housecall, a new home telemedicine system and Principal Investigator for The 2000 U.S. Telenursing Role Study, and Collaborator in the 2004 International Telenursing Survey - both web-based surveys of nurses' roles in telehealth in the United States and internationally. Dr. Schlachta-Fairchild serves as Associate Faculty, University of Maryland. Her BSN is from University of Maryland; Master's in Healthcare Administration from Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, and Ph.D. from Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Georgia. Dr. Schlachta-Fairchild is a Diplomate in the American College of Healthcare Executives and a member of the Association of Telehealth Service Providers. She is both a member of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) and Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Telenursing Special Interest Group of the ATA.

Bob Pyke Jr.: So how did you end up in Telemedicne?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: When I was an Army officer, the Department of Defense Telemedicine Testbed was just starting in Georgia. The Chief Nurse of Eisenhower Army Medical Center asked for a nurse "volunteer" to provide the nursing view within the developing Testbed. I started out four hours per week and eventually became the Clinical Director of the Testbed, working with the team to stand up 17 "tele" programmes, one of which was the vision of Dr. Jay Sanders, the Electronic Housecall. It occurred to me that the home-based and disease management telemedicine/telehealth was the REAL power of the technology - putting it in PATIENTS' hands so THEY could manage their own disease!

Bob Pyke Jr.: Tell me what you are doing now?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: We founded iTelehealth Inc. in 2000 and are now 5 years old and going strong. Our firm is seven persons, and we help organisations get going using telehealth, primarily in the post-discharge, home-based and disease management arenas. We write research proposals for telehealth initiatives, we work with colleges and universities to include telehealth in the nursing curriculum, we project, manage and implement home-based telehealth initiatives, and we are TELEVANGELISTS - spreading the word by products, publications and speaking engagements that Telehealth and Telenursing are a solution to some of the challenges our health care system faces.

Most importantly, if someone or some organisation REALLY WANTS TO USE TELEHEALTH AS A STRATEGIC TOOL - we can get them going on their trajectory VERY QUICKLY so they are on track and going.

Bob Pyke Jr.: What services or projects your involved in?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: 1) We conceptualized and are executing the Mount Aloysius College Nursing Telehealth Applications Initative. Under this initiative we conducted the 2004 International Telenursing Survey. We designed, implemented and evaluated the Virtual Clinical Practicum TM - transmitting a live clinical experience from the MICU at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Mount Aloysius College in Western Pennsylvania so student nurses could get an ICU "rotation" virtually. We developed a Telehealth On-line Course for the College.

2) We crafted, implemented, and will be evaluating an arm of an existing Longitudinal Burn Study so that Burned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who are being discharged from the Army Burn Unit in San Antonio Texas would take home a telemedicine system and be followed for 18 months after discharge.

3) We conceptualized, designed and built a Suicide Prevention Web site for the NIH (NIMH) that has interactive, telehealth features and we are actively seeking partners to use the site in on-line advice/counseling and Suicide Prevention activities.

4) We continue to offer our Telenrusing and Telehomecare CD rom's and books for those interested in learning more about Telehealth and Telenursing.

5) We precept students from University of Maryland's Informatics Programme who have an interest in Telehealth.

6) We are designing, implementing and evaluating a Post-Discharge, Open Heart Surgery Telenursing and Tele-Cardiac Rehab programme pilot with Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Bob Pyke Jr.: Do you have a favourite one?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: The work where PATIENTS get the technology and it improves their lives just makes me jump for joy because IT IS SO GREAT and it makes such a big difference!! Equally favorite is when nurses "get it" and they start moving forward with telehealth in their practice areas.

Bob Pyke Jr.: Tell me a little about the hardware and software you are using?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: We BACK INTO the technology - we don't sell or use any ONE technology. First we define what someone wants to DO, and what their END GOAL is - then we go out and look for the "perfect" technology to fit the clinical application. We firmly believe this is one of our major success factors in our approach!! There is no "magic technology" - it is the PROCESS that is the key and the PEOPLE ... the technology is merely a tool, although everyone focuses on it for some reason!

Bob Pyke Jr.: What else are you doing in telemedicine as far as distance education/grand rounds/counseling?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: The Virtual Clinical Practicum TM, conducted in Fall 2004 with Mount Aloysius College and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was a landmark event in nursing education. It is a model whereby schools of nursing, or others in Allied Health professions can make available clinical experiences to students, with the patients in any location. One faculty person supervised up to 80 students for "clinical" in this model. And the research showed that students get as good of a clinical experience - although no hands-on care delivery - and the level of discussion and critical thinking is deeper and more thorough than "in-person" clinical. The hands-on is being augmented using simulation in the Nursing Lab after the Virtual Clinical experience, which lasts about 3 hours.

Bob Pyke Jr.: What do you want to do, and in what direction would you like to see your programme go in the future?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: We want to continue to work with our partners in further developing and building the applications we have begun. We would like to see the Virtual Clinical Practicum TM expand to become a model for clinical education nationally or internationally. We would like to see ALL major trauma and burn patients receive home telehealth systems when they leave the hospital so the docs, nurses, rehab, wound care, nutritionist, social work, THE TEAM - can keep supporting them and insure their timely recovery. We want to see disabled, special needs and chronically ill CHILDREN - and their parents/families - have care beyond the hospital walls at home. We want to see Nurse Practitioners use telehealth DAILY as a cornerstone of their practice.

Bob Pyke Jr.: 10 years?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: Be doing televisits to patients from our lanai in Hawaii. hehe - not TOO farfetched!!!

Bob Pyke Jr.: I am convinced that one of the most exciting areas in telemedicine is the potential role it may have in international health care and disaster responses. What is your view?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: Being military, we have seen how (or not) the technology works in the battlefield. Asking people to "manage" technology in the heat of heightened, crisis activity is not always realistic. We believe there IS a place for it - however it must be carefully considered not to be a "miracle solution". Telecommunications can be knocked out in disasters, and one cannot always count on tele-availability. What is important in our estimation, is that systems be used ROUTINELY, and then when/if there is a disaster, they will also be used to support the efforts because people will KNOW and they will be FAMILIAR with the tool.

Bob Pyke Jr.: What can be done to continue to promote telemedicine in the USA and in the World?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: Let consumers know that it exists to help THEM ... they will then begin to DEMAND it from our health care systems!

Bob Pyke Jr.: David Balch, who recently retired from the telemedicine centre at Eastern Carolina told me that he thought telemedicine as we know it would disappear, that it would be so common on our desk top, that we take telemedicine for granted. What do you think?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: I think Dave, and the Jetsons, both nailed it. The key will be convincing providers to adopt and change accordingly!

Bob Pyke Jr.: What do you want to say or add to your colleagues out there? And what words of advice can you offer?

Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild: Telehealth technology is not the end, it is a MEANS to an end. The people, and how they work together toward an end goal of better health is the REAL key. Telemedicine and telehealth is COLLABORATION and communication ... it's the people - patients and providers of all types - working together in new and different ways who will make it successful.

Contact details:

  • Loretta Schlachta-Fairchild, Ph.D., RN, CHE
  • 6935 North Clifton Road
  • Frederick, MD 21702
  • Phone: +1-301-371-8495
  • Fax: +1-301-371-8538
  • e-mail: lschlachta@itelehealthinc.com

Bob Pyke Jr.

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