Effect of a multiple-site intensive care unit telemedicine program on clinical and economic outcomes: an alternative paradigm for intensivist staffing

Michael J Breslow, Brian A Rosenfeld, Martin Doerfler, Gene Burke, Gary Yates, David J Stone, Paige Tomaszewicz, Rod Hochman, David W Plocher
Critical Care Medicine 2004, 32 (1): 31-8

OBJECTIVE: To examine whether a supplemental remote intensive care unit (ICU) care program, implemented by an integrated delivery network using a commercial telemedicine and information technology system, can improve clinical and economic performance across multiple ICUs.

DESIGN: Before-and-after trial to assess the effect of adding the supplemental remote ICU telemedicine program.

SETTING: Two adult ICUs of a large tertiary care hospital.

PATIENTS: A total of 2,140 patients receiving ICU care between 1999 and 2001.

INTERVENTIONS: The remote care program used intensivists and physician extenders to provide supplemental monitoring and management of ICU patients for 19 hrs/day (noon to 7 am) from a centralized, off-site facility (eICU). Supporting software, including electronic data display, physician note- and order-writing applications, and a computer-based decision-support tool, were available both in the ICU and at the remote site. Clinical and economic performance during 6 months of the remote intensivist program was compared with performance before the intervention.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Hospital mortality for ICU patients was lower during the period of remote ICU care (9.4% vs. 12.9%; relative risk, 0.73; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55-0.95), and ICU length of stay was shorter (3.63 days [95% CI, 3.21-4.04] vs. 4.35 days [95% CI, 3.93-4.78]). Lower variable costs per case and higher hospital revenues (from increased case volumes) generated financial benefits in excess of program costs.

CONCLUSIONS: The addition of a supplemental, telemedicine-based, remote intensivist program was associated with improved clinical outcomes and hospital financial performance. The magnitude of the improvements was similar to those reported in studies examining the impact of implementing on-site dedicated intensivist staffing models; however, factors other than the introduction of off-site intensivist staffing may have contributed to the observed results, including the introduction of computer-based tools and the increased focus on ICU performance. Although further studies are needed, the apparent success of this on-going multiple-site program, implemented with commercially available equipment, suggests that telemedicine may provide a means for hospitals to achieve quality improvements associated with intensivist care using fewer intensivists.

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