The ICU of the future is virtual: 4 things to know

What will the ICU look like in the future? Likely, there will be virtual components and technology integration that will allow for more remote monitoring and a higher quality of care.

The Reading Eagle reported on how one health system is already making the switch. West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health embarked on a mission to develop a virtual ICU in April to support patients during the COVID-19 pandemic that includes more than 200 ICU beds.

Four things to know:

1. The virtual ICU will allow staff at Tower Health's flagship Reading Hospital, also based in West Reading, to monitor patients at other hospitals in the system. Since implementation, the virtual capability has been used nearly every day, according to the report.

2. Health systems will be able to integrate patient information through their centralized EHR and monitor heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure and other vitals in the patient record so staff at all locations have the most recent updates. Tower Health has Epic EHR, and the virtual ICU uses Bidyo, a program that lets specialists view patients alongside EHR data so clinicians can see how the patient is responding to treatment in addition to knowing their vitals.

3. ICUs will be more mobile and easy to expand during times of need, such as during future pandemics or surges of COVID-19 patients. Virtual ICUs are nimble and will ensure there are enough beds and ICU staff monitoring patients, and patients in the intermediate care unit can be monitored similarly to ICU patients.

4. Hospitals may need fewer ICU staff members because they can monitor more patients at the same time virtually. The virtual capabilities can also allow patients to stay at their own hospital instead of being transferred to a larger one, as previously would have occurred.

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