Fighting back against a highly contagious disease takes a lot of creativity. That’s especially true in the healthcare world where workers are exposed to COVID-19 every day. Unfortunately, healthcare can’t be easily converted to a work-from-home format like most other sectors.
Performing care over the internet is a concept that both patients and caregivers are starting to embrace. The push towards telemedicine has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors and nurses are working around the clock, digital assets are one of the only ways to lighten the load. Sutter Health Bay Area led the way with its innovative eICUs. They allow healthcare staff to check in on patients remotely using cameras and audio equipment. The approach not only keeps those workers out of harm’s way, it also conserves precious personal protective equipment (PPE).
With its two eICU hubs, Sutter is able to care for 395 patients who are physically located at 18 hospitals. It can deal with surges by deploying iPads makeshift ICU rooms, upping its capacity even further to about 600 beds.
After seeing the success of Sutter’s approach, other hospital systems in the U.S. quickly followed suit. With the shortage of critical care physicians and nurses being amplified by the pandemic, the eICU strategy makes a lot of sense.
Joseph Kvedar, president of the American Telemedicine Association, says, “How do I take a resource like an ICU clinician and spread them around? Well, technology allows you to do that, and that’s what the eICU is all about.”
It will never be possible to replace human contact in healthcare. However, eICUs are the perfect way to reduce it during situations like the current pandemic.
Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University says, “[COVID-19] is a specifically critical illness that can lend itself well to eICU because we try to limit how many providers go into a room.”
Moving forward, experts predict that technologies like 5G will help make eICUs even more useful. The extremely fast network enables real-time care regardless of where providers and patients are physically located. Think of eICU physicians as air traffic controllers. 5G networks will facilitate seamless communication between them and the various hospital campuses they oversee.
Another factor making eICUs more attractive is the decreasing cost of basic technology. Hardware items like high-definition cameras and LCD screens are cheaper than ever. That has a big impact on the adoption of eICUs.
Hospitals are often forced to prioritize cost-effectiveness over innovation. Thanks to recent trends in the tech world, however, they might be able to open new eICUs without compromising their budgets. That would be a good thing for providers and patients alike.
In the wake of COVID-19, innovative solutions like eICUs make it possible to deliver high-quality care remotely. They will play a vital role in the future of healthcare.