Hospital expects remote ICU will allow more patients to stay local

Medical-Surgical Special Care Manager Marylou Hofer demonstrates the new electronic Intensive Care Unit system at Owatonna Hospital. Cameras are installed in each Special Care Unit room, allowing the eICU care team to closely examine critically ill patients through real-time information via cardiac monitors, lab results, medications and care notes via the electronic medical record. (Photo courtesy of Allina Health)

 

By: William Morris
June 22, 2017

 

Many patients with complex medical needs who previously have been treated at other, better-equipped facilities will now be able to stay and be treated at Owatonna Hospital thanks to a new telemedicine system.

The hospital, which is owned by Allina Health and operated in partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System, officially launched its electronic Intensive Care Unit initiative on Wednesday. The eICU, as it is called, is a system of cameras and monitoring systems installed in the existing Intensive Care Unit to allow off-site critical care providers to work with onsite staff to care for the most difficult patient cases.

It’s a big step up for what kinds of care the hospital can offer, Owatonna Hospital President Dave Albrecht said via email.

“Prior to eICU, many patients who could [not] have been appropriately cared for were transferred to other facilities with 24/7 critical care teams. Traditionally, those patients may have had multiple chronic conditions or perhaps an advanced stage of a clinically complex condition,” Albrecht said. “Now in collaboration — our team of hospitalists and caregivers and eICU intensivists and critical care nurses — we are able to safely care for those patients with advanced complexity, right here at Owatonna Hospital.”

The new level of service depends in part on the types of doctors available through the eICU. Owatonna Hospital usually employs hospitalists, doctors trained in general medical care for hospital settings. The eICU will give local patients access to intensivists — specialists with training focused on critical care scenarios.

“Large tertiary hospitals often have intensivists on-site,” Albrecht said. “Owatonna Hospital, due to its size, did not. Owatonna Hospital requested — and was accepted — to be part of the eICU pilot, in order to enhance our medical capabilities to better serve our communities.”

Telemedicine is a booming field, and local patients already can access remote services online ranging from stroke neurologists to virtual interpreters in various languages. The eICU, however, offers a more comprehensive level of off-site care, including not just video screens and speakers, but cardiac monitors and lab results, all plugged into special decision-making software to continually analyze patient data and alert the team, both local and remote, to changes in a patient’s condition.

It’s a system designed by Avera Health System in Sioux Falls, the largest telemedicine system in the U.S., according to an Allina press release, and it will be Avera specialists on the other end of the line in the four eICU-equipped rooms at Owatonna Hospital. The hospital will pay a subscription fee to be part of the service, and there will be no patient charges specifically for receiving treatment through the system.

Albrecht said treating patients closer to home isn’t just convenient — it results in better care, including improving compliance with best practices and shortening lengths of stays.

“Data also shows the eICU technology improves the patient care experience and increases satisfaction,” he said. “It’s important to us that our patients receive safe and quality care. … Making sure they have a positive experience is also a top priority for us.”

No staff changes are planned at the hospital in response to the eICU, Albrecht said.

William Morris got his start in the newspaper trade as a recurring editorial intern in Wisconsin and has been writing about business, government and crime at the Owatonna People’s Press since 2015. He is now taking the reins of Forge as Associate Editor.

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