Virtual ICU program helps rural hospitals care for COVID-19 patients

Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 4:36 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Rural hospitals are getting help from technology during a surge in COVID-19 cases and the need for intensive care treatment.

It allows doctors and nurses to continuously monitor critically ill patients from hundreds of miles away. It’s called eICU, a virtual intensive care unit.

Doctors in a UW Health office building in Madison can provide care to patients in seven hospitals and eight ICUs across the state.

“So we can see all of the patients telemetry so their EKG tracings, what their heart rate is, what their blood pressure is doing, how they’re oxygenating. We can also go into all of their health records,” says Lynn Jacobs, Nursing Supervisor, eICU, UW-Health.

The program uses screens and cameras. Doctors can provide expertise to rural hospitals dealing with more critically ill patients due to COVID-19.

“We are seeing a lot more sick patients, a lot of patients that are a lot younger than ones that we’ve cared for, and having the ability to have the intensivists oversight over the care of our patients. give guidance and be a resource has been huge to ensure that the level of care they’re getting here is the same as what they would be getting at UW or at our larger PPS hospital,” says Jessica Faude, interim Vice President of Patient Care Services, Aspirus Medford Hospital.

Faude says eICU is an invaluable tool as rural hospitals lack the number of beds to take care of an influx of critically ill patients and to care for them for a longer period of time.

“We’re keeping vented patients, you know, filling our ICUs with vented patients that we’ve not done for over a while. But we’re comforted in knowing that we’re we’re doing the best care. We have the oversight of UW and they’re intenseness that are dealing with this every day. So it’s been huge,” says Faude.

Dr. Jeff Wells is the medical director of eICU at UW Health.

“So we see all that information and then information comes into us and we’re able to help them use that to help take care of their patients, to give them the added benefit of experts in critical care that they may not have at the facility or may not have at that time at their facility to help support the care of their patients,” says Wells.

Jacobs explains, “There’s always somebody physically at all of our sites to take care of patients 24/7, but this way, in a small town, physicians are able to get some more rest and our physicians can kind of take over.”

Since 2020, UW Health’s eICU has helped care for more than 1,300 COVID-19 patients in the ICU--25 percent within the last six weeks.

“We have quite a few Telestrokes throughout the state of Wisconsin that we converted to be critical care COVID consults. So the ER physicians and ER staff could connect with our intensivist and nurses in the care of patients that transfers to a higher level of care were more limited during periods of surges,” says Jacobs.

Faude says, “It has really been huge now that we are encountering issues with bed availability. So they’re just there are not ICU beds available or very limited ICU beds available. And I have partner hospitals that don’t have this service and they’re struggling you know, we I feel like we’re way ahead of the game.”

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