Intensive Care Units (ICUs) treat the most critically ill or injured patients requiring around the clock monitoring from highly skilled medical professionals. Many ICUs particularly in rural areas, are understaffed due to crowded hospitals and a shortage of specially trade doctors and nurses adept at critical care.
A growing number of innovative health systems are using Telehealth technology to expand ICU coverage, referred to as eICU or tele-ICU.
eICU's are a glimpse into the future of medicine incorporating cutting edge telemedicine and remote patient monitoring tools to allow teams of skilled critical care nurses and intensivist doctors to monitoring thousands of patients at hundreds of hospitals.
An eICU operates more like a NASA control center than a traditional hospital center. The remote monitoring technology provides an added level of clinical support and helps hospitals prevent potential patient complications within the intensive care unit. The goal is to save lives, reduce complications, decrease length of ICU stays and better manage health care costs.
eICUs extends the reach of highly trained medical teams to help treat thousands of patients, across multiple hospitals, up to 400 miles away from the eICU.
Innovation Saving Lives OSF HealthCare, a multi-state health system based in Illinois, has seen great success since launching an eICU program in 2012 to extend critical care to rural areas. The numbers tell the story: OSF's eICU program has decreased mortality by over 26%, and decreased length of stay over 30% from their baseline before introducing the eICU. People leaving the hospital faster and healthier.
A national study by the Journal of Critical Care found consistent benefits to eICUs – patients in the eICU had a mortality rate of 9.4 percent, compared to 12.9 percent in the ICU group, and a length-of-stay of nearly a full day shorter. Besides those two metrics, one of the most important things to look at when evaluating the effectiveness of eICUs is how they improve patient safety.
Filling the Intensivist Shortage Gap One of the problems eICUs is helping to solve is a US wide shortage of "intensivists" doctors trained to handle critical care patients. Intensivist training is extremely rigorous. After medical school, an intensivist completes a residency and board certification in a specialty such as surgery, internal medicine, pulmonary medicine or pediatrics, plus an additional two- to three-year fellowship and certification in critical care medicine. Rather than focusing on specific body systems – like cardiologists (the heart and vascular system) or pulmonologists (the lungs and respiratory system) – intensivists take a comprehensive approach to caring for ICU patients. A skilled critical care team provides well-documented benefits that include: Improved patient outcomes, including survival rates Reduced complications Shorter lengths of stay in the ICU Enhanced medication safety
The Future is Now Innovative organizations like OSF Healthcare continue to invest in Telehealth technology to extend the impact of these highly skilled clinicians. OSF now operates 2 eICU centers overseeing 11 hospitals, with plans to open a third eICU monitoring center in Chicago.
Nationally, 45 eICU centers are in operation covering about 15% of all ICU patient beds.