Rural Telemed Program 'Literally a Life-Saver'

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media , June 22, 2011

Phoenix-based Banner Health is in the midst of rolling out a huge telemedicine program to every critical care hospital in its seven-state hospital system. This so-called eICU technology allows a team of off-site critical care nurses and physicians to remotely monitor ICU patients 24/7 as a backup to existing bedside caregivers.

One of the latest hospitals in Banner's system to receive this technology is Ogallala Community Hospital in Nebraska, which is the only rural facility in western Nebraska with this capability.

According to Daphne Wyatt, RN, Ogallala's interim chief nursing officer, the system offers a safety net for both patients and staff.

"Our staff here takes care of them, but they have that extra set of eyes," Wyatt said in an interview.

Here's how it works: Each ICU is equipped with a high-resolution, full-motion, two-way video camera with audio hookup. From the Clinical Operations Room (COR) on the Banner Desert Medical Center campus in Mesa, Arizona, specialists can assist the bedside caregivers to detect even the smallest changes in a patient's condition. Additional support and tele-monitoring at Ogallala and other Banner Health rural facilities takes place in Greeley, Colorado at Banner Health's North Colorado Medical Center.

According to John Hensing, MD, EVP and chief medical officer of Banner Health, the program uses an ongoing computer-based monitoring system that follows vital signs, respiratory rates, lab results, and other information, as well as nurses' notes and medical records to recognize minute changes in a patient's condition. When specialists detect a problem or concern, they can talk live to the caregiver at the beside and access the patient via voice, video, and data.

"It's trying to use the information system to recognize deterioration in patients' medical status before the bedside caregivers even know about it," Hensing said in an interview.

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