Emory Healthcare eICU program saves Medicare millions

Philips eICU
Emory Healthcare's eICU program saved nearly $1,500 per patient by streamlining care.

An Atlanta health system saved Medicare $4.6 million during a 15-month span through a telehealth program that shortened length of stay and streamlined care for patients in the ICU.

Emory Healthcare reduced Medicare spending by nearly $1,500 per patient between April 2014 and June 2015 through its eICU program, according to a press release. The health system also saw more discharges home and fewer post-acute care facilities admissions, an indication that patients were healthier upon discharge.

The initiative, which used telehealth technology provided by Philips, was designed to allow ICU physicians 24/7 access to critical care patients and was backed by a $10.7 million Health Care Innovation award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2012. The findings were part of an independent audit conducted (PDF) by Abt Associates on all aware recipients.

“We attribute those savings to standardizing our care delivery and offering more immediate access to intensivist led interventions,” said Cheryl Hiddleson, director of the Emory eICU Center, in the release. “Our patients are being discharged more frequently to home settings instead of long term care or rehab because they have more consistent care in the hospital.”

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The audit highlighted less quantitative benefits of the eICU program, including avoiding care delays and improving adherence to standardized clinical guidelines. Clinicians also reported numerous “saves”—instances in which physicians monitoring patients alerted ICU staff to concerns that would have otherwise gone undetected. This was particularly helpful in addressing emergent patient needs overnight.

More hospitals are realizing the economic benefits of telehealth programs that can have a broad impact on patient care, particularly in rural areas of the country, although some wonder if the telehealth sector is on the verge of a bubble.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently launched statewide access to telehealth services and a New York City hospital has begun using telehealth in the emergency department to reduce wait times.