Inclement weather in the mountains of North Carolina would sometimes keep Kathryn Ross, a nurse working with Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), a nonprofit that supports first-time mothers, from visiting with her clients.

Not anymore. Now, through NFP’s new teleheath program, Kathryn can always connect with clients over the phone.

“We are like lifeguards and telehealth is a buoy we now have,” Kathyrn says. “Even if we can’t go to [our clients’] homes, we can still have a visit, a virtual visit, and that’s a lifeline for some people.”

NFP launched telehealth after hearing from clients who participated in Listen for Good surveys that they wanted more flexibility scheduling visits and more ways to connect with their nurses. One client wrote on her survey: “I love my nurse but the hours are more difficult for me since I work [Monday through Friday], so instead of getting the 2+ visits a month I only get 1.”

Benilda Samuels, chief marketing and communications officer for the national organization, says NFP was already considering ways to keep visit costs down and better support nurses, some of whom, especially in rural areas, have clients spread out over a number of counties. Feedback from the moms, she says, fast-tracked a pilot program, then implementation, of telehealth.

But both she and Kathryn stress that telehealth visits — conducted by phone or video calling, if possible — are not meant as a substitute for in-home visits, when nurses are better able to check on the physical, mental, and emotional health of the moms and their babies. Instead, they say, the telehealth option provides a much-needed back-up when busy schedules or weather forecasts don’t cooperate.

“Sometimes you start out the door, then you have to go back in because there’s ice or snow, or the river is overflowing,” Kathryn says. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t be there for our clients.”

This article was written and published by the Fund for Shared Insight.

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* Disclaimer for 29 weeks or less pregnant: Some exceptions may apply please check with your local Nurse-Family Partnership agency for more information.

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