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City Call Program Links Community Hospitals and Children’s Heart Center

Emergency Room Entrance

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cardiology’s City Call Program was pioneered more than 25 years ago by retired pediatric cardiologist Robert Campbell, MD, and his partners to serve as a gateway between Georgia’s many hospitals and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The initial vision was to provide outreach care to pediatric cardiology patients in nurseries and NICUs throughout the state. Because Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center does not have its own birthing center, a city call cardiologist is often the first point of contact between heart patients and Children’s. Timotheus Watson, MD, has served as director of the program since 2017.

The City Call Program has expanded since its inception to encompass 22 hospitals with five pediatric cardiologists seeing patients each day in an area that stretches north to Cherokee, east to Newnan and west to Carrollton. With a staff of 16 physicians, the City Call program provided more than 4,500 consultations, 5,000 echo reads and 100 fetal consultations last year. Dr. Watson said they hire city call providers with very specific skillsets.

“All of our providers are experienced in imaging as they perform their own echocardiograms at the hospitals they visit,” Dr. Watson said. “They are also skilled at managing complex heart disease and some are specially trained in fetal cardiology so they can manage the care of mothers with fetuses exhibiting irregular heart rhythms or pulmonary hypertension.”

All of Children’s Cardiology’s city call providers also see patients in outpatient clinics, furthering their connection and continuity of care with patient families in their communities. Access to excellent cardiac care close to home allows mothers and babies to receive the best possible care without having to travel excessive distances for frequent appointments.

In his role as director of the city call program, Dr. Watson focuses on ensuring efficient provider workflow, given the geographic distances they must travel. He develops tools to manage workflow, facilitates upgrades to echocardiography equipment and ensures that the program adheres to the protocols of the hospitals they serve and communication is clear. His team acts as advocates for patients in outlying hospitals to make sure they get the services they need.

While the care of most patients can be managed close to home, if a patient does need to be transported to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, the city call team coordinates the transport and executes a plan that was ideally created before delivery.

One of the biggest benefits of having a regular presence in the hospital nurseries and NICUs is that it allows Children’s city call providers to spot potential trouble in babies and act quickly to identify CHDs and treat them. For example, Dr. Watson was once on city call seeing a patient with a heart murmur when he noticed another baby was having trouble breathing and had a low oxygen level. The team was able to arrange for transport to Children’s Heart Center and later identified serious heart disease in the patient.

“City call service gives families access to very talented providers who can quickly make determinations before a patient is discharged from the hospital,” Dr. Watson said. “The ability to send babies home with a good understanding of what’s going on with their hearts reduces anxiety for the family and ensures proper management of any heart conditions immediately.”

For more information about Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.

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