When staffing levels aren’t optimal, patient care can suffer – particularly in departments such as the intensive care unit (ICU), where one wrong move could cause a patient severe harm. One health system, backed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), managed to reduce the impact of fewer staff in the ICU via telehealth.
According to a press release, Emory Healthcare, based in Georgia, created its Electronic ICU (eICU) program three years ago, shortly after receiving a Health Care Innovation Award from CMS. The award gave Emory $10.7 million to fund the initiative to improve the care patients received in the ICU.
Working with shortage
Critical care physicians, or intensivists, are tough to find nowadays, and many hospitals don’t have enough of them on staff. Emory’s eICU program was designed to expand patients’ access to critical care physicians via telehealth while keeping costs low. The program also trained nonphysician practitioners, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to provide critical care to patients.
Each room in Emory’s eICU is filled with high-tech equipment designed for remote patient monitoring, including video monitors, cameras, speakers and microphones. Patients were monitored 24/7 by offsite intensivists who would communicate with clinical staff and patients.
In the program’s first year, Emory provided eICU services to over 8,000 patients at five of its hospitals. Most of these patients were Medicare or Medicaid patients. For each Medicare patient, treatment in the eICU reduced costs by an average of $1,486 per hospital stay. In all, that saved $4.6 million.
Outcomes also improved, with many clinical staff members indicating that problems were brought to their attention faster than they would’ve been otherwise. So, onsite staff could attend to patients’ needs faster, instead of waiting until onsite doctors arrived.
Overall, patients in the eICU had lower lengths of stay and were discharged healthier than in a normal ICU setting. Additionally, when compared to a control group of nine area hospitals with a similar patient mix, Emory’s eICU patients had fewer readmissions for 60 days after discharge.
Per an article in Healthcare IT News, more patients from Emory’s eICU were discharged to their homes instead of skilled nursing facilities or long-term care hospitals. Patient satisfaction, a crucial element for reimbursement, was also higher for Emory’s eICU patients.
With more payors reimbursing hospitals and other healthcare providers for telemedicine, combined with readily available technology, it’s likely projects like this will become more common. That means hospitals should start thinking about how they can best leverage telehealth and remote monitoring technology for their patients, both in the ICU and in other areas.