One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that hospitals don’t have enough Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds or enough ICU physicians. As more and more patients were admitted to the hospital, medical administrators struggled to come up with solutions to these shortages. Tele ICU services were already being trialed at numerous hospitals, but the pandemic caused them to proliferate quickly as one way to help hospitals cope with bed and staffing shortages. What they found is that this futuristic technology already exists and it’s going to be a valuable patient care tool from here on out.
Solving Physician Shortages
Hospitals all over the world were already dealing with staffing shortages before the pandemic hit. But, once it was here, those shortages became a major problem because there just weren’t enough ICU physicians available to handle the patient load. Rural facilities often only employ a single ICU physician who is only on duty during the day. If a patient needed that doctor during the evening or night, the ICU nurse would need to either page that physician or help the patient as best they could until the doctor arrived in the morning. Neither option was great for patient outcomes.
Hospitals that employed tele ICU services were able to provide ICU physician services any time they were needed, which meant that patients could get the medicine or procedure they needed right away. The ICU monitoring center would receive all the patient data and medical history necessary for a qualified, licensed ICU physician to make a sound medical decision. Patient outcomes improved and the hospital didn’t have to hire another doctor (if they could even find one).
During the pandemic, these types of shortages hit hospitals of all sizes, both rural and urban. Not only that, but doctors sometimes became ill with COVID themselves and were unable to work. Virtual ICU technology was a way for hospitals to continue to deliver high-quality patient care despite shortages.
Turning Over ICU Beds
The pandemic also highlighted the need for more ICU beds, as patients were lined up in hallways and doubled up in rooms meant for a single patient. The sooner a patient didn’t need an ICU bed anymore, the more patients an ICU could help. Turning over ICU beds became a priority for ICUs because they were getting patients that should be receiving ICU services one right after another. Tele ICU technology proved to be vital for getting patients discharged on time.
In an ICU, a patient’s condition can improve quickly to the point where they no longer need as much care. However, if the ICU physician isn’t available, that patient must stay in the ICU until the doctor arrives to examine and discharge them. This takes up a valuable ICU bed that isn’t really needed. With virtual care, patients could be discharged by a doctor at any time of the day or night, freeing up ICU beds for more critical patients.
Keeping medical professionals safe is vital to successful patient outcomes. They need to be healthy so they can keep seeing patients. In-person care carries a high risk of exposure that can cause even more physician shortages. But with tele ICU services, a doctor can perform their duties without ever coming in contact with the virus. The physician stays safe and the patient gets the care they need. That’s a win-win.
Even though virtual medicine has been around for years, it wasn’t considered necessary. The pandemic changed all that and now the ICU of the future is already here.