Telemedicine Emerging as Rural ICU Solution

Doug Desjardins , January 23, 2014

While the high startup costs associated with telemedicine programs have presented a barrier to many rural hospitals, data suggests they contribute to lower costs and lower mortality rates

Since the first programs were launched in the early 2000s, telemedicine has become a staple of nearly every area of care in the healthcare industry. But one area where it is just beginning to carve out a niche is intensive care.

ICU beds account for about 7% of total acute care hospital beds in the United States but generate 13.4% of total spending, with the cost of an inpatient stay ranging from $2,500 to $4,000 per day, According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

The evolution of tele-ICU programs is detailed in a report from the New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI), a health policy group that promotes the expansion of telemedicine. The report notes that, as of late 2012, there were 54 civilian and government tele-ICU monitoring centers in the U.S. While most were operated by academic medical centers, others were run by a mix of providers that included "regional hospitals, health plans, commercial firms, and the Veteran's Health Administration."

While tele-ICU programs have shown promise, however, high startup costs associated with the plans have presented a barrier to many rural hospitals that could benefit the most from such programs, the report suggests.

But "most indicators suggest that use of tele-ICUs is on the threshold of major change" and increased competition among providers is likely to "push tele-ICU care toward a more scalable and potentially more widely available technology," the report says.

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