TELEMEDICINE: Hospitals Turn to Internet to Supplement ICU Staffing
Lacking enough specialists to provide 24-hour intensive care unit coverage, some hospitals are turning to the Internet and telemedicine to ease the burden of staffing shortages. Virginia-based IC-USA struck its first deal last week with two Virginia hospitals, where the new company will set up a telemedicine system that provides "24-hour, seven-day intensivist coverage" for the facilities' three ICUs. Under the deal, the hospitals will still staff ICUs during the morning with intensivists, but specialists will also spend several nights each month at an "electronic command center," called the EICU, supervising patients at all three ICUs during the hours when no intensivist is scheduled. The EICU doctor on duty also will be assisted by a nurse, a clerk and a technical support person. Dr. Brian Rosenfeld, executive vice president and chief medical officer of IC-USA, said, "We don't envision it will replace doctors. Some on-site supervision is still necessary." During a four-month clinical trial covering over 200 patients at a Baltimore area hospital, Rosenfeld and his partner, Dr. Michael Breslow, executive vice president of research and development at IC-USA, found that adding round-the-clock telemedicine coverage to normal staffing "reduced patient mortality by about 60%, reduced complications by 40% and reduced costs 30%." According to Rosenfeld, hospitals can save about $150,0000 per year per intensive care bed using telemedicine, netting about half after paying fees for IC-USA. Ultimately, the two doctors hope their company will be able to provide services to rural hospitals, which often do not have any intensive care specialists (Salganik, Baltimore Sun, 4/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.