More Than A Baby Monitor

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Britain smile as they pass a couple of "prisoners" in stocks, Oct. 16, 1957, during the royal couple's tour of the old fort at Festival Park in Jamestown, Va. The queen and Prince Philip have returned to Virginia for a six-day state visit to the U.S. to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown.
AP Photo
You waited a long time for your baby to be born, but he or she was born premature, and is not yet strong enough to leave the hospital.

It may be months before your infant can be brought home, and some of those days may be crucial.

What do you do? Camp out at the hospital 24 hours a day for weeks? Most parents find that eventually, no matter how much they want to stay at the hospital until Junior can come home, they have to leave, even if only for a few hours.

"It took me two weeks to visit the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) without leaving in tears," says Jennifer Le Pape, whose son Alex was born at 27 weeks, weighing only two pounds. "It's a catch-22 because you want to be there all the time."

In an interview with CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, Le Pape and her husband, Frederic, say a new web-based video conferencing program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has made their situation a lot easier.

The hospital, with government funding from the National Library of Medicine, has set up a system called Baby Care Link, an experiment in telemedicine which allows parents to check on babies and stay in touch with their doctors at times when they can't be at the hospital.

"What we've done," explains Dr. Charles Safran, one of the developers of Baby Care Link, "is we've added technology using the Internet and allowed high-tech to become high-touch."

In addition to live two-way video conferences, Baby Care Link families have the use of a secure Web site, complete with daily updates on their baby's progress, reliable information on treatment and medicine, and a regularly updated photo album that friends and family can access with a special password.

The photo gallery isn't unique; an increasing number of hospitals now offer Web sites with snapshots of newborns.

"My family is on the other side of the Atlantic, Jennifer's family is a couple of states away," says Frederic Le Pape, appreciative of the system's ability to keep relatives informed.

"It's bringing the far-flung family close in," agrees Jennifer Le Pape, "allowing them to follow his progress and see how he's doing."

Safran says the program is also cost-effective, in that babies in participating families tend to be released from the hospital an average of two days sooner than without the technology. That's roughly a five to six thousand dollar savings in the care that this child received."

"We're not only improving the quality of care, we're shortening the length of stay," adds Safran.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse Hollis Caswell says Baby Care Link has proved helpful to parents who get a lot of medical information from various caregivers at the hospital but sometimes wind up overwhelmed.

"We give them a lot of information up front," explains Caswell, "and often times they understand it at the time they're talking to us, but they go home and thy're like 'What did she say? I'm not really clear on that.' "

We log on and can read at our leisure and absorb the information when we're ready for it," says Jennifer Le Pape. "You can sort of deal with things at your own pace in the privacy of your home until you get used to whatever the newest hurdle is."

The technology behind Baby Care is also being tested to help care for the elderly in their homes and improve medical care in rural areas.

Telemedicine is not a new field - computers have been used for some time to help doctors miles apart pool their resources, especially when it comes to research and diagnosis. But the Web has made many new applications possible and numerous groups are continuing to explore the possibilities.

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