Remote ICU Programs Help Improve Patient Outcomes, Lower Costs

May 8, 2015 in News

A remote multi-hospital intensive care unit program in North Carolina has helped keep ICUs open and contributed to declines in mortality rates and lengths of stay, WFAE/Kaiser Health News reports.

Details of Program

The Carolinas HealthCare System program, which launched about two years ago, is based out of a command center close to Charlotte, N.C. From there, a rotating staff of seven to nine nurses and physicians who specialize in providing critical care monitor ICUs in 10 of the health system’s hospitals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The providers talk to patients by video when in the central hub and also conduct bedside visits.

The staff at the command center can easily access relevant data, including patient medical histories, according to WFAE/Kaiser Health News.

Program Benefits

According to Carolinas HealthCare System staff, the remote ICU program has helped remote clinicians focus more on patients because the command center is quieter than the ICU.

In addition, among the 10 ICUs participating in the program:

  • Mortality rates have declined by 5%; and
  • Lengths of stay have declined by 6%.

Scott Lindblom, chief of pulmonary and critical care at the health system, credited the declines in part to the program, although he also said a sepsis management program likely played a role in the reductions.

Meanwhile, Lindblom said that since the program was implemented, the health system’s ICUs have been treating more patients.

Others Weigh In on Remote ICU Programs

Deanna Larson, who directs a virtual ICU for South Dakota-based Avera Health, said its remote system had led to about $70 million in savings over the last decade. In addition, she said its ICUs have no longer needed to transfer complex patient cases to major medical centers, allowing patients to remain closer to home.

Leapfrog Group President Leah Binder said that it is better to have physicians provide clinical care on-site than remotely. However, Binder added, “[T]hat’s not always possible for every hospital and particularly in rural areas, so second to [in-person care] is a virtual environment” (Tomsic, WFAE/Kaiser Health News, 5/8).

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