RED WING, Minn. — Expecting parents Holly and Ryan Nardinger attended a class on labor and delivery Thursday night, Jan. 3, in Red Wing. What they didn’t expect was how soon the material would come in handy.

By the next morning, the Lake City couple had to drive back to Red Wing to give birth to their daughter, eight weeks ahead of schedule.

Clara Louise Nardinger — the first newborn of 2019 at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing — came so early that a specialist was paged at Mayo Clinic in Rochester to help. That’s when nurses wheeled in a computer screen.

“They brought in the screen and were hooking it up, and I said, ‘What’s that for?’” Holly Nardinger said of the whirlwind delivery.

On the monitor was the face of Dr. William Carey, who had called in remotely from Rochester through a teleneonatology system. With cameras and a microphone, Carey was able to communicate with medical staff in Red Wing and reassure the Nardingers that they were in good hands.

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The concern was that baby Clara’s lungs were not yet fully developed. Holly Nardinger said the doctor explained the procedures for premature babies and told her Clara would be flown by helicopter to the newborn intensive care unit in Rochester.

“That was nice to have that information beforehand,” she said.

Remote reunion

The Nardingers brought Clara home Jan. 26. They said she is eating well and starting to grow — from 4 pounds, 4.4 ounces and 16.5 inches long at birth to more than 6 pounds and 19.5 inches long at a checkup Feb. 19 in Red Wing.

The checkup included another surprise for first-time parents: a video call from Dr. Carey.

“We trust the Mayo Clinic Health System providers to identify when they think they need assistance,” Carey said from his office in Rochester. “And we’re happy to provide that assistance whenever it is they call.”

After the call comes in, a doctor is paged that an emergency teleneonatology appointment is needed, he explained. Then the provider needs to get in front of a computer, whether it’s a desktop at work, a laptop at home or a mobile device.

“Even if I’m out in public on a cellular network, it’s still a protected, private connection,” Carey said. “The technology is just fantastic.”

Mayo Clinic launched its teleneonatology program in 2013. Since then there have been more than 300 remote consultations across the upper Midwest. The program was brought to Red Wing in August 2014, where it has been used several dozen times, according to a Mayo Clinic Health System spokeswoman.

The use of telecommunications technology to diagnose and treat patients is a growing trend in Minnesota. The number of telemedicine visits in the state jumped from 11,113 in 2010 to 86,238 in 2015, according to a recent Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota School of Public Health study.

Telemedicine was more commonly used by patients in greater Minnesota for provider-initiated visits, including consultations with specialists, according to the study.

“This research shows that telemedicine may be emerging as an option to overcome some of the geographical barriers of accessing specialty care in greater Minnesota, particularly in the area of mental health,” Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a news release.

He said the study underscores the importance of investing in health care workers and technology, as well as broadband Internet access around the state.