Baystate, Boston children’s hospitals strengthen Western Massachusetts access to specialized pediatric care

Dr. Charlotte Boney, who chairs the department of pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital, was “over the moon” Thursday. Baystate Health had just announced it has formalized its long-term relationship with Boston Children’s Hospital to provide Western Massachusetts residents with easier access to highly specialized pediatric care in neurology, dermatology and other areas.

“Over the last six years or so, we have been collaborating on more and more things with Boston Children’s to make subspecialty care really available locally to patients and kids in Western Massachusetts,” Boney said. “This is really taking our partnership to the next level and I am over-the-moon pleased. They are the top children’s hospital in the country. Who would not want to partner with them?”

Sandra L. Fenwick, CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement the collaboration will “strengthen the ability of two great institutions to improve access to the highest quality care for the patients and families we look forward to serving together.”

Dr. Mark A. Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, added that he was “delighted to build upon our exceptional care for families through a collaboration with the much-respected Boston Children’s Hospital, which will provide additional clinical expertise when needed for our young patients.”

A “clinical referral network” has long been in place for sending patients from Baystate to Boston for a second opinion or treatment, Boney said. However, the formalization is anticipated to take advantage of “more remote care” in subspecialties in which Baystate may not be staffed because it sees few related cases or may need additional support to help keep care local. “Everyone’s telemedicine’s capabilities have dramatically improved in the last to nine to 10 months (because of the pandemic),” Boney said. “In most cases, we think that is how Boston Children’s can help us. Remote consults are great. No provider has to physically drive out to Springfield with telemedicine.” She said already in place is a program with Boston Children’s pediatric skin specialists for which Baystate uses a camera “specialty designed to take pictures of rashes.”

“We take a picture of the skin and send it electronically to their pediatric dermatologists and they take a look at it, talk to our doctors here and they send us back a consult report,” Boney said. “They do not have to specifically be here.” There are other possible collaborations in areas like rheumatology, Boney said.

Boston Children’s neurologists come to Baystate Children’s weekends “to provide in person, in-patient consultation for patients needing child neurology,” she said. Also, they do some remote care on weeknights to help the existing neurology staff cope with demand that might have once meant a drive to Boston for patients and their families.

Boney sees the arrangement as “helping us to keep more of those patients local” and giving “community pediatricians even more confidence in referring to us in knowing that if we cannot provide the service, we can help expedite that care to Boston Children’s.”

Baystate Children’s has collaborated with Boston Children’s pediatric cardiology for at least six years, Boney said. “One of the adult cardiologists interested in congenital heart disease actually comes out to Baystate physically to hold a clinic with our pediatric cardiologists for patients with congenital heart disease who are transitioning into adulthood.” There are collaborations involving neurology and dermatology and areas in the works, she said.

Boney credited Boston Children’s with having one of the best neurodevelopmental fellowships in the country. “Those neurodevelopmental fellows have to do two years of pediatric training before they begin that subspecialty training in neurodevelopmental pediatrics.” She added, “So, we have one of their fellows doing his pediatrics training with us here at Baystate for two years and we are hoping to match another one to start next year. So, that is something we can do for them.”

She also noted the potential for “small clinical studies” between the two hospitals. Boston Children’s serves as a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Medical School now has a Baystate campus. “When you are taking care of patients together and are both academic departments then you consider yourself a learning community and as you see patients and learn these things you want to share that within the field,” Boney said. “That is the most obvious way clinical research collaborations will happen.”