eICUs growing in popularity

Remote monitoring of patients in intensive care units, known as eICU technology, has spread to 300 hospitals in 40 healthcare systems across 30 states. As a result, more than 300,000 patients a year are being remotely monitored in eICUs, according to Philips, which provides one of the eICU solutions. Other vendors such as Cerner, Epic, and iMDsoft also offer these systems, which cost an average of $2 million each, but can improve safety and avert malpractice suits.

In hospitals that employ eICU, vital signs and the visual condition of patients each are displayed on five to six computer workstations that can keep track of multiple patients. An intensivist physician and a couple of critical care nurses can safely monitor up to 120 patients at a time. These clinicians have access to electronic records that they can quickly look up if a patient gets in trouble. If an intervention is warranted, they communicate with physicians and nurses in the physical ICU. These staff need not have critical care training to rescue patients--a boon for hospitals that don't have enough intensivists to provide round-the-clock care.

Not all attending physicians trust the eICU technology, though. In a recent Health Affairs paper, executives of Advocate Healthcare in Chicago recounted the introduction of an eICU in eight of their 10 hospitals. Advocate let staff physicians choose whether they wanted to allow eICU intensivists to modify their treatment plans in an emergency. Four levels of delegation were permitted. At the start, only 73 percent of the doctors let the intensivists intervene in any case where they thought it was necessary; over a three-year period, that figure rose to 96 percent.

Advocate reports that the use of the eICU has been an important factor in reducing mortality among adult ICU patients since being implemented in 2003.

To learn more:
- read the article in Computerworld
- see the Advocate paper in Health Affairs 

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