As more healthcare facilities plan for a future with telemedicine, industry professional also note an increased interest in remote monitoring, whereby a large number of patients can be observed on an ongoing basis from a centralized hub or facility. Prior to the pandemic, Houston Methodist, comprising a network of eight hospitals and 180 clinic locations in the Greater Houston area, was building a virtual intensive care unit (ICU) program to “support and optimize care across the system and as a safety net,” says Dr. Sarah Pletcher, vice president and executive medical director of virtual care at Houston Methodist. Specifically, the program would provide a “second set of eyes” to monitor patients remotely as well as extend bedside teams with two-way video connection of experienced ICU doctors and nurses.

Methodist originally anticipated a six-month rollout to fully integrate and adopt the virtual ICU, but the COVID-19 crisis propelled it to ramp up the program in two and a half weeks, wiring nearly 130 ICU rooms with bi-directional audio communication, open video and audio with privacy indicators, and telehealth buttons to contact remote operation centers. “We are covering over 360 beds, across all eight of our hospital campuses.” Pletcher says.

Additionally, the system was extended to support not just the main ICU units but also surge ICUs, for COVID-19 patients in step-down or intermediate status, while also providing support for ICU patients waiting or boarding in the emergency department or post-op recovery areas. “There will always be a need for ‘boots on the ground’ at the side of the patient, but telehealth hospital specialty and monitoring programs have the potential to offer efficiency in load leveling, sharing resources across multiple locations, and using technology to ‘watch’ large panels of patients as a support and extension to the bedside teams,” Pletcher says.

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