How hospitals are gearing up virtual care for the delta variant surge

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase across areas of the U.S. with low vaccination rates, the demand for telehealth intensive care unit and emergency room services is also on the rise, Politico reported July 28. 

Matthew Lyon, MD, virtual care operations service chief at Augusta University Health in Georgia, told the publication that most hospitals his system collaborates with remotely monitor one or two COVID patients, but a month ago that number was far lower, about 1 in every 10 or 12 hospitals. 

At Avera Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., sicker and younger patients are increasing at the health system's tele-ICU company Avera eCare. The telehealth company connects patients with clinicians across the upper Midwest and Great Plains states using fiber optic-connected setups that keep cameras trained on patients. Nurses or physicians then watch patients' vital signs in a command center and respond in real time to any data changes in heart rates or blood oxygen levels displayed on monitors. 

"We don't know what the future holds with delta or any other variants that are coming, but we know that this system works to help with that," said Kelly Rhone, MD, medical director of outreach and innovation at Avera eCare. 

Patient reviews on these types of remote-monitoring programs have been mixed, said Marshall Lee, MD, medical director of the virtual ICU at Oregon Health & Science University, adding that a number of those hospitalized "wonder what's going on with the camera," but have appreciated the attention when hospitals' staffs are stretched thin. 

Almost 30 million Americans live more than an hour from a trauma center, signaling that the demand for teletrauma care could outlast the delta variant and future COVID surges, according to the report.


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