COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores Need for ICU-Telemedicine

Tele-intensivists working overnight can cover several patients, allowing the daytime intensivists more rest, decreasing the likelihood of burnout.

A recent study that is being presented at the Society of Critical Care Medicines 50th Critical Care Congress has discovered that patients who are in the intensive care unit (ICU) and receive services through telemedicine are more likely to be discharged from the hospital sooner and are less likely to die when compared to those receiving traditional forms of ICU care.

With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic still raging throughout the world, the need for around the clock care has become a key issue in reducing the rates of mortality for patients with the disease in the ICU. The use of telemedicine allows physicians and nurses to do everything other than hands on care, including the monitoring of bedside monitors, communicating with patients and reviewing test results and medical records.

“In an ideal world, patients would have an intensivist at the bedside 24/7, but the reality is that even if we had all of the money in the world, we don’t have enough trained professionals to do the job,” Chiedozie I. Udeh, the lead author of the study and an intensivist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation said. “Telemedicine offers an excellent means for providing that level of care, allowing health issues to be discovered earlier and are moved along more quickly so that recovery can be as smooth and swift as possible.

Included in the study were 153,987 patients who received care in an ICU in 1 of 9 clinics in Cleveland hospitals. Of those, 108,482 (70%) received telemedicine care during hours when intensivists were off-site. The findings showed that they were 18% less likely to die, spent 1.6 fewer days in the ICU and 2.1 fewer days in the hospital.

It is estimated that between 15% and 20% of hospitals in the United States offer some form of ICU-telemedicine. These services are able to be provided from a command center from somewhere else in the hospital system, sometimes even many states away.

“The demand for critical care has been growing as the population ages and COVID-19 has exacerbated that need,” Udeh said. “Although this study ended before the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of ICU-telemedicine has become even more clear during the pandemic, including providing the ability to extend care when the ICU reaches capacity and staff levels are stretched.”