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Telemedicine Emerging as Rural ICU Solution

Doug Desjardins, January 23, 2014

"The software monitors trends unique to each patient and analyzes the data to detect problems before they develop," says Olff. "For instance, if a patient's blood oxygen levels are suddenly a little off, we can intervene and treat a respiratory problem that could quickly develop into pneumonia."

Many tele-ICU programs have been developed at academic medical centers as part of demonstration projects; the challenge now is to expand them to rural hospitals.

Rural adoption
Of the 54 tele-ICU monitoring centers in the United States, only 21 involve rural or critical access hospitals. The report notes that "the two key impediments to tele-ICU coverage of rural and critical access hospitals have been the costs of extending and maintaining coverage to a limited number of ICU beds and a lack of bedside clinicians in these hospitals to implement care directed from the tele-ICU."

But that is starting to change. The NEHI report notes that Missouri-based Mercy Health System, which currently has one of the largest tele-ICU programs in the U.S. covering 480 beds, recently received a federal grant to extend coverage to 24 rural hospital beds.

Mercy's program, launched in 2007, has produced a 30% reduction in ICU mortality rates and a 20% drop in patient LOS that saves an estimated $25 million per year.

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