But with new technological capabilities being introduced at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country, that’s starting to change, according to Dr. Ralph Panos, medical director of the telehealth program at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
On Wednesday morning, he and other officials from the Cincinnati hospital introduced their tele-ICU technology to the recently renovated intensive care unit at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Similar technology has been used in the past for outpatient care and audiology services at the hospital, but Panos said the technology is relatively new for intensive care.
“Virtual care is new, and it's actually an area that the VA is leading the country in,” he said. “Most has been used for outpatient care, but tele-ICU is really the first major inpatient telehealth initiative within the VA.”
Panos said the technology now has the capability to help streamline patient care and provide timely access to specialists who may not be near patients in urgent need of care.
Using new software, Panos said the two-way connection provided by the new technology allows specialists to closely monitor the patient’s vitals from hundreds of miles away, 24 hours a day.
“It’s a two-way audio-visual connection, so what you’re seeing is just a part of that connection. All of the bedside information, laboratory values and physiological parameters like blood pressure and pulse are all connected to the tele-ICU technology,” he said. “And we integrate all of that information using software technology that’s akin to artificial intelligence.”
Panos said this technology can catch things that doctors could miss by themselves. By doing this, he said health care professionals at Veterans Affairs hospitals can prioritize cases and react quickly to negative changes in patients’ conditions.
“We actually assign acuity scores to every patient so we can prioritize high acuity, low acuity and medium acuity patients,” he said. “We can also look at threshold and trend alarms. We can look at when someone’s blood pressure is going up and be alerted to that, or when someone’s potassium gets low, it will actively tell us that it's low so we can correct it.”