Hospital adds 'eICU' tech to boost 24/7 critical care

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Sentara Healthcare has implemented eICU technology in its 10-bed intensive care unit at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center. The technology includes a high-resolution camera and speaker mounted on the wall across from a patient’s bedroom.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, July 15, 2019

To ensure critically ill patients are never without a doctor’s support, Sentara Albemarle Medical Center has added new “eICU” technology to its 10-bed intensive care unit.

Dr. Donald Bowling, Sentara Albemarle’s vice president of medical affairs, and Dr. Steven Fuhrman, eICU medical director, discussed the eICU upgrades in an interview at Sentara Albemarle on Thursday.

For patients and visitors, the technology isn’t much to look at — it’s a high-resolution camera and speaker mounted on the wall across from the patient’s bedroom. However, the doctors explained it will provide potentially lifesaving backup for the ICU’s two intensivists, Drs. Dan Mulcrone and Theresa Hartsell.

Bowling said Sentara Healthcare started implementing eICU technology in 2000, adding monitoring equipment to various hospitals’ ICUs to tie them into an eICU control center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The monitoring equipment allows physicians in the control center to monitor patients 24-7, and direct emergency interventions if a patient worsens while intensivists are off-duty.

The eICU technology isn’t aimed at cutting on-site intensivists, but ensures they get some needed down time, Bowling explained.

“They’ve had days when they’re not going home until midnight but their next shift starts at 6 a.m.,” Bowling said.

Bowling explained intensivists sometimes work long, difficult hours to stabilize patients. Additionally, some patients’ conditions might worsen unexpectedly, forcing nurses to try to contact them overnight for help.

The eICU can instead connect them to another doctor, and fresh set of eyes, instantly, Bowling and Fuhrman said.

Fuhrman, notably conferencing in from the control center in Norfolk, said eICU interventions have saved lives at other Sentara hospitals — no time is lost trying to page or wake up intensivists.

How effectively can an offsite doctor assess a patient? The eICU networks all of a patient’s vitals straight to the control center; eICU doctors have the same real-time information on oxygen levels, heart rate, glucose levels, and other telemetry right to the control center.

Bowling emphasized that Sentara put good cameras into patients’ rooms.

“The doctor can zoom in enough to see your pupils,” he said.

Given the eICU technology is new to Sentara Albemarle, Bowling and Fuhrman also said nurses and staff explain and reassure patients about the cameras’ value.

Bowling also reiterated the eICU doesn’t mean patients won’t see doctors in-person as much.

“You’re going to see the intensivists as much as you normally would,” he said.

According to an email from Sentara Albemarle spokeswoman Annya Soucy, the eICU control center now monitors 132 ICU beds across eight hospitals, including the 10 beds at Sentara Albemarle.