"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.
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.