2019 Hero VICU Virtual Care

Homeward bound: Virtual technology brings ICU care closer to home

For the 5.7 million people in the U.S. who need intensive care every year, hours or even minutes may be the difference between life and death. Yet for those critically ill patients, the increased care they need isn’t always easily accessible. This is especially true for people living in rural communities, where the closest hospital may not be able to provide the level of care needed, and many are left to chance being transported hundreds of miles away.

Drives of two hours or more can disrupt patient care and leave families struggling to juggle work and personal schedules at a time they should be at their loved one’s bedside. Transferring a patient to a distant ICU is necessary but potentially traumatic for everyone.

So the answer is to bring the ICU to the patient.  

That’s the premise of a new partnership between Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Allegheny Health Network (AHN), which have teamed with Mercy Virtual – a nationally recognized leader in the development and delivery of telehealth solutions – to provide patients in rural Pennsylvania with high-quality intensive care from the comfort and convenience of the hospital that is closest to home.

The region has an acute need for intensive care services. Despite being a densely populated state, 8 million acres of farmland stretches between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In fact, 48 out of 67 counties in the state are classified as rural, home to 27 percent of the states’ population. In these areas there is a shortage of critical care clinicians to staff hospital ICUs around-the-clock.

Using Mercy’s telehealth technology, Highmark and Allegheny are creating virtual ICU (vICU) environments at AHN’s Allegheny Valley, Canonsburg, Jefferson and Saint Vincent Hospitals. The vICU connects local, on-site health care professionals at each of the hospitals with Mercy’s remote ICU doctors who monitor patients 24 hours a day via state-of-the-art monitoring technology. 

Using two-way video and “wired” beds that communicate real-time and continuous information about a patient’s condition and vital signs via secure, encrypted connections, the teams are able to seamlessly interact and communicate to provide early warnings before critical conditions become even more severe.

“The vICU clinical team supports the onsite bedside team by monitoring a continuous stream of data which is transmitted in real-time,” said David Hall, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Highmark Health. “The remote caregivers are able to assess the patient, draw conclusions, and support bedside health care professionals in whatever way necessary to deliver effective patient care.”

Mercy Virtual’s vICU program – currently implemented in 40 hospitals around the country – has led to 35 percent lower mortality rates and a 30 percent reduction in time spent in the ICU.

“We want patients in rural and underserved areas to have access to critical intensive care. We also want to avoid unnecessary transfers and keep patients closer to home. And we want to lessen the stress currently being placed on bedside ICU teams. Our partnership will help to achieve all three goals” — Vance Moore, President of Business Integration, Mercy Virtual


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