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Telemedicine in ICUs May Trim Critical Care Costs

HealthLeaders Media Staff, December 13, 2010

Tele-ICU technology could save 350 additional lives and more than $122 million annually if broadly and effectively implemented across Massachusetts, according to a study from the New England Healthcare Institute and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

"Critical Care, Critical Choices: The Case for Tele-ICUs in Intensive Care" analyzed data collected from a demonstration project at UMass Memorial Medical Center and two community hospitals in Massachusetts. NEHI and MTC studied tele-ICU technology because of its potential to address the supply-and-demand problem plaguing critical care. It comes down to the "collision of two strong trends," according to the report.

The first is increased demand?the growing numbers and severity of critical care patients (attributable to the aging population). The second is dwindling supply: fewer critical care physicians (or intensivists).

Tele-ICU, a telemedicine technology, provides a potential solution: It allows physicians and nurses who specialize in critical care to monitor a higher volume of ICU patients in multiple, distant locations from a centralized command center.

According to the report, tele-ICUs

  • Decrease mortality: In the academic medical center, patient ICU mortality decreased by 20 percent and total hospital mortality rates declined by 13 percent.
  • Shorten ICU stays: Patient ICU stays were reduced by 30 percent or an average of two days in the academic medical center. Community hospital stays were also reduced.
  • Save money: Hospitals recovered the up-front investments for tele-ICU in approximately one year. Health insurers saved $2,600 per patient treated in the academic medical center. Tele-ICUs also enable community hospitals to care for a substantial portion of patients who are currently transferred to teaching hospitals. Retaining these patients in community hospitals would save payers approximately $10,000 per case.

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