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Published on December 05, 2016

Computers, Cameras and a Dedicated Staff Save Nearly 3,000 Lives

Cone Health’s first-in-the-state tele-ICU marks 10 years of making a difference in the care of thousands of people.

“With intensive care patients, things can change moment to moment,” says Rakesh Alva, MD, medical director, eLink. “You need a second set of eyes, and the tele-ICU provides them.” That second set of eyes has saved nearly 3,000

Marilyn Watson, Critical
Care Nurse

lives since Cone Health turned on the state’s first tele-ICU (intensive care unit) 10 years ago. The tele-ICU allows a team of intensive care specialists to remotely watch ICU patients in multiple Cone Health hospitals from a single clinical operations room.

“It was very, very impressive,” recalls Patrick Wright, MD, on seeing a tele-ICU while Cone Health was first exploring the technology. “We immediately recognized the potential this had for our community.” Hospital staff routinely monitor the breathing, heart rates and other vital signs of patients in an ICU. But few ICUs have intensive care doctors on hand 24/7. A tele-ICU fills that gap: patient vital signs are sent to the clinical operations room where intensive care nurses watch over them with the help of a computer. The computer runs all of the data through programs that can spot problems before they develop.  

“After installation of the tele-ICU system and its staffing, our ICU mortality index fell. It was exciting. Lives were being saved, and they still are today,” adds Wright. Cone Health ICUs have 20 percent fewer deaths than would be expected in nonmonitored ICUs. Patients also spend fewer days in intensive care.

Approximately 850 times a year, the computer program and near-constant surveillance by 17 critical care nurses find potential patient problems. High-definition cameras in Cone Health ICUs allow a critical care nurse or doctor to examine a patient – even the patient’s pupils – remotely. The remote team can provide advice on a patient whose condition is deteriorating or answer questions bedside nurses may have about a patient in the middle of the night.

Cone Health’s tele-ICU monitors 163 beds at Alamance Regional Medical Center, Annie Penn Hospital, The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, Wesley Long Hospital and Women’s Hospital. There are also mobile monitoring units that can be quickly set up in Cone Health emergency departments, expanding the vision of those lifesaving eyes to more patients.

Intensive care specialist David Simonds, MD, says the tele-ICU was just the beginning. “The cultural change throughout our ICUs has been so extensive that it is difficult to recall a time when there were not experienced intensive care doctors and nurses immediately available to assist the bedside providers. Our tele-ICU is the hub of ICU medicine at Cone Health.”

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