I’ve never been admitted to an intensive care unit. But if I do end up there some day, I’d like to think that a top-notch team of doctors would watch every blip on my EKG.
Sadly, the real picture isn’t nearly that rosy.
In fact, according to a report from The Hospitalist, less than 20% of intensive care units are adequately staffed with physicians qualified to deal with critically ill patients.
That shocking statistic is why a group of doctors in St. Louis formed Advanced ICU Care, a centralized operations center of trained ICU physicians. Its purpose? To work with community hospitals to deliver adequate care to ICU patients.
And it’s doing so with the help of telemedicine – a theme I’ve mentioned here before.
Today, in Part 2 of my mini-series on the subject, I’ll show how this technology is working wonders to relieve the pressure at understaffed ICUs…
The Tele-ICU Trifecta: Less Waiting Time, Less Cost, Less Death
Yesterday, I covered how telemedicine is providing healthcare to the rural U.S. population through remote monitoring and video conferencing. But while this represents a key feature of telemedicine’s growth, it doesn’t exactly deliver edge-of-your-seat thrills.
What does, however, is telemedicine’s potential in more dire situations – like ICUs, for example. And the results so far show that the technology can be more exciting than a season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
It’s not just about monitoring vital signs, either. “Tele-ICU” doctors can control high-resolution cameras in the patients’ rooms, check lab results and x-rays, review patient records and speak directly with patients and local nurses. All from a central command station.
It’s perfect for understaffed hospitals that need to consult an experienced doctor or nurse immediately. As tele-ICU nurse manager, Donna Gudmestad says, “We act as an extra set of eyes to help support nurses and physicians… nurses can’t be everywhere at once.”
Even better… medical centers tapping into Advanced ICU Care’s system cut the average length of time that patients spend in intensive care by 25%. And since that reduces the chance for further complications, they’re cutting costs as well. And to top it off, they saw an astounding 40% reduction in patient mortality.
With a stat like that, you’d expect to see this technology everywhere by now. But despite its obvious benefits, tele-ICU has barely scratched the surface.
With Just 4% of the Market Saturated, Growth is Just Beginning
So far, Advanced ICU Care has helped treat more than 35,000 patients in a dozen U.S. states. And its services are present in more than 20 hospitals.
That doesn’t sound like much, I know.
But with over 5,700 hospitals in the country and just 249 hospitals adopting some type of tele-ICU program in 2010, according to the National Network for Health Innovation, there’s still a huge growth potential in this market. Especially when you consider that by 2030, 70 million Americans will be older than 65, according to U.S. Census data. And to be frank, that should translate into more ICU traffic.
Another point in favor of telemedicine’s growth in the ICU is that fewer doctors are joining the geriatric field. In 2010, only 56% of job openings in geriatric medicine were filled. This means there won’t be enough doctors to handle the rising number of elderly patients, making the fight to keep ICUs adequately staffed more challenging than ever.
So there’s no question the need for telemedicine should continue its upward momentum for years to come.
To play the trend, you could check out companies that build the technology, which connects ICUs to control centers. Philips Electronics (ADR) (NYSE: PHG) is one of them, as it provides Advanced ICU Care’s eICU system.
Plus, stay tuned for my article tomorrow on telemedicine’s rampant growth outside the United States.