Tele-ICUs are also being promoted as a way to expand the ICU capacity of hospitals to accommodate an aging U.S. population. "It could go a long way to addressing a major problem in that there are not enough intensivists in the health system to care for an aging population of baby boomers," says NEHI's Nick King, one of the authors of the report.
Startup costs an issue
Like most ventures rooted in high tech, tele-ICU programs can be expensive. The NEHI report estimates that per-hospital startup costs range from $100,000 to $200,000, with added expenses for equipment such as mobile carts.
"The upfront costs can be an issue, but we've demonstrated that health systems can see a return on investment from tele-ICU programs in as little as nine months," says NEHI president Wendy Everett.
Standard tele-ICU systems use a central monitoring station staffed by clinical staff around the clock. Each ICU room is equipped with a high-definition video camera and an audio hookup to allow physicians and nurses in the monitoring station to visually check on patients and communicate with nurses in the room.
Physicians also make their standard rounds between rooms each day to check on patients. Everett says round-the-clock monitoring of patients allows physicians and nurses to catch minor problems before they become major health issues.