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Remote IT allows docs to care for ICU patients from a distance

Lucas Mearian | March 2, 2011
Telehealth efforts gain ground, reducing hospital deaths, costs

Philips eICU technology is not the only product on the market today. Cerner, Epic, iMDsoft and others sell teleICU platforms that are used throughout the country.


A patient dashboard

If a patient's health goes south, TeleICU technology is able to alert trained physicians and nurses who can bring up a profile page and dig deeper into the patient's health history to determine the cause of the problem. At that time, physicians will typically turn on the remote camera and begin watching the patient and conversing with nurses on scene.

"It creates a sense of collaboration," Sample said.

For example, if a patient goes into cardiac arrest and a nurse performs CPR, the eICU physician can monitor an electrocardiogram readout and the calibration off a ventilator to determine the effectiveness of the procedure.

Each eICU command center has five to six computer-monitor workstations that can keep track of multiple patients. Doctors and specially trained ICU medical personnel in the command center can speak with the remote ICU personnel to discuss clinical patient data and can view televised images of the patients. Direct patient care is provided by the doctors and nurses in the physical ICU, who do not have to be specially trained in intensive care procedures.

Each eICU command center has five to six work stations for medical intensive care professionals to monitor patients. (Image: Philips Healthcare)

That last point is important because in recent years, the number of people needing ICU care has gone up -- without a corresponding increase in the supply of professionals trained in ICU techniques.

About 300 hospitals in 40 healthcare systems across 30 states now use eICUs. As a result, more than 300,000 patients are remotely monitored by eICUs each year -- about 10% of U.S. adult ICU patients, according to Philips. And the popularity of eICUs is growing. Last year, another 500 beds were added nationwide.

Philips provides the professional services to set up the eICUs along with the health monitoring software. The hospitals are responsible for purchasing all the hardware and finding a suitable facility with networking connectivity in which to run the eICUs.

The eICU software alone costs from $2 million to $3 million.


Expensive, but worth it

However, the cost is well worth it, according to Shaffer. Health First's VitalWatch has saved lives and money, and the patient litigation rate has dropped to zero since the hospital installed the eICU system seven years ago. "All it takes is one legal bogie, and you're talking a couple millions dollars," he said, referring to potential damages that could be awarded in a lawsuit.


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