High costs force health system to drop eICU program

Citing cost, MaineHealth has become the latest healthcare organization to discontinue its eICU program, reports the Bangor Daily News.

"We would be running a deficit of more than half a million dollars [a year] to run it," Mark Harris, MaineHealth's senior vice president of planning and marketing, said of the decision affecting the Portland-based health system and nine participating hospitals.

The hospitals--including four outside the MaineHealth system--pay fees to operate the system called VitalNetwork, in which ICU specialists in Portland remotely oversee the care of patients in the various ICUs. But some hospitals had to drop the service because insurers did not reimburse them for it.

Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, for instance, paid $100,000 to $150,000 a year in fees to participate, money it could not recoup. The fixed costs of the program made it impossible to run in a cost-effective way for the remaining organizations, Vance Brown, MaineHealth's chief medical officer, said in an announcement. The program will be shuttered effective Oct. 1, but the VitalNetwork staff will be retained in other positions.

A New York Times article published earlier this year questioned the effectiveness of eICUs, noting that organizations including NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital--in addition to hospital systems in Michigan, Texas and Kentucky--have abandoned such programs.

A University of Iowa review of previous studies found there's too little data to show that eICUs improve patient outcomes or provide a return on investment that can reach $50,000 to $100,000 per bed.

To learn more:
- read the article
- find the announcement

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