Telemedicine use in ICUs lowers mortality rates

Intensive care units (ICUs) that install telemedicine services boast lower mortality rates, lower rates of preventable complications, and shorter hospital and ICU stays, say researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.

The 834-bed academic medical center, which has seven ICUs (three medical, three surgical, and one mixed cardiovascular), already had sophisticated critical care facilities and expertise, reports the Boston Globe. However, adding eICU capabilities appears to have improved care: the death rate for 1,529 patients in intensive care prior to the eICU introduction was 10.7 percent, compared with 8.6 percent for the 4,761 ICU patients cared for using telemedicine.

The study was presented Monday at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society, and was published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We thought we were going to have an impact, but this turned out to be a little more than what we initially counted on," Craig Lilly, MD, the study's lead author and director of the eICU program, told the Globe. "We really thought we were giving the best possible care. But it turned out, we could do better."

In an accompanying editorial in JAMA, Jeremy Kahn, MD, an associate professor of critical care and health policy at the University of Pittsburgh, said after many years of use, the optimal role of telemedicine in the ICU has remained uncertain.

However, the Massachusetts study has shown that in the right settings and with the right goals, "telemedicine can indeed be used to help improve outcomes," he wrote. Overall, the study provides "the first convincing evidence that ICU telemedicine can be an effective complement to bedside care in some settings."

For more details:
- view the JAMA study abstract
- see the JAMA editorial commentary
- read the Boston Globe article
- read the HealthDay News article