Maryland ICU patients connect to remote critical care staff

By Bernie Monegain
10:04 AM

Maryland intensive care patients will now be connected by voice, video and data lines to specialized physicians and nurses at a tertiary care referral center 130 miles away.

A year after six independent Maryland hospitals, with a $3 million grant from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, announced plans to provide coordinated critical care to their patients, the first, Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, is fully online with the care system.
 
"We are thrilled to bring Maryland patients this enhanced level of care," said Thomas Lawrence, MD, board chairman of Maryland eCare and vice president of medical affairs for Peninsula Regional Medical Center, an eCare member.  "This is an exciting step towards improving the already high quality of care for all Marylanders."

Maryland eCare, LLC, which formed to share resources and bring skilled critical care to rural parts of the state, consists of Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, Civista Medical Center in La Plata, Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown and Washington County Health System in Hagerstown.
 
Studies have shown improved patient outcomes and decreased lengths of stay for patients in intensive care units managed by physicians who specialize in critical care. Yet due to a shortage in the specialty, many hospitals can't keep these physicians on site 24 hours a day, say eCare executives. eCare connects physicians, nurses and patients via voice, camera and data, enabling hospitals to provide specialized care around the clock.

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Calvert Memorial will work most closely with eCare on nights, weekends and holidays, times typically difficult for local specialists to remain on site.
 
Working with a remote monitoring center at Christiana Care in Wilmington, Del., eCare supplements local ICU staff with experienced critical care physicians and nurses. Christiana Care was the first health system in the country to adopt the eICU program to monitor critically ill patients in its emergency departments and post-anesthesia care units and uses the technology in four of its ICUs.
 
With eCare, patients benefit from receiving timely, critical care when they need it and where they are most comfortable – close to home, said Lawrence. Continuous monitoring detects changes in patient condition, watching trends in crucial indicators such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and respiratory rates, allowing remote staff to alert and work cohesively with on-site staff to improve patient status.
 
eCare does not take the place of bedside staff, Lawrence said. It provides an extra set of eyes and ears, ensuring an added layer of safety and enabling a patient's care plan to prevent a medical crisis instead of responding to one. For on-site caregivers, in-room help is available at the push of a button.
 
Later this year, Peninsula Regional Medical Center and St. Mary's Hospital will go online.  By 2011, almost 80 ICU beds will be connected through Maryland eCare.

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