Templates for rural success
Though rural tele-ICU networks are rare, there have been several successful networks that could provide a template for success. In Maine, Maine Health had eight rural hospitals coordinating ICU care through a program established in 2005 (though it was successful, the program was shut down in October 2013 when it ran out offunding).
Avera Health in Washington also operates a rural tele-ICU program as part of its innovative suite of telemedicine programs.
Extending ICU programs to rural hospitals has benefits beyond cost savings. "It also helps the patient and the patient's family," says Everett. "It's difficult enough for someone to be hospitalized in an ICU and even worse if a patient's family and friends have to travel two or three hours to visit them because the local hospital doesn't have the resources to care for them."
The NEHI report predicts that "in the future, Tele- ICU technology should be able to transition from a capital-intensive technology with modest dissemination to a more affordable and scalable technology that can reach hospital settings such as county,
public, rural, and critical access hospitals across the country."
John Muir's tele-ICU program, for example, is still confined to its acute care hospitals, but may soon branch out to serve some of the many rural hospitals in remote Northern California towns.
"It's something that's been discussed and would seem to be the next logical extension of our program," says Olff.