Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 12, 2013

Virtual ICU Helps with Critical Shortage of ICU Doctors, Nurses


There is a national and international shortage of specially trained intensive care unit doctors and nurses. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are using technology so they can provide ICU services from different parts of the city, state and country. The Carolinas HealthCare System has been proactive in implementing this technology, and the goal is to connect hospitals so they can provide this critical service to all their patients regardless of distance.

As of now, five hospitals are connected and two more will be online by August this year. When the project is finished, CMC-Pineville, CMC-University, CMC-Mercy, CMC-Union, CMC-Lincoln, Cleveland Regional Medical Center in Shelby and Stanly Regional Medical Center in Albemarle will have the capability of monitoring 550 ICU beds in almost 30 hospitals across the Carolinas.

More than 40 virtual ICUs cover around 450 hospitals around the country, taking care of more than 10,000 adult ICU patients, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the ICU market.

The technology is so sophisticated, off-site nurses are able to see in detail the patient and many of the instrumentation providing critical life support. This includes ventilator settings and being able to read the ingredients on the side of an IV bag or even see how fast tube feedings are being consumed.

Hospitals across the country have seen positive results with implementation of virtual ICU programs, including:

  • Dropped rates of ICU mortality
  • Lower cardiac arrests
  • Shorter ICU patient total length of stay
  • Lower cases of central line infections and ventilator associated pneumonia

The Carolinas HealthCare System command center is located at Mint Hill with monitors connected with two-way cameras to observe patient 24/7 in real time. If and when the bedside nurse needs to contact someone, a simple push of a button will get a board-certified critical care physician from the center. Although the command center had a price tag of $12.3 million, officials are optimistic that will pay off by providing more efficient services, which will save money in the long run.

This technology gives facilities that don't have the financial resources to have fully staffed intensive care units access to world-class care wherever they are located. With fewer intensivists available around the country, the virtual ICU will be able to use their talent more efficiently to a wider audience.




Edited by Alisen Downey






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