COVID-19 sped up the demand for telehealth. But the more progressive systems had already been investing in ways to offer care and monitor patients from afar. Among the trailblazers in this arena is Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare and its CEO, Howard P. Kern.
What was your riskiest decision? In 1999, Sentara Healthcare partnered with a small IT startup to develop and implement the nation’s first tele-ICU. Sentara launched eICU in June 2000, leveraging critical-care physicians and nurses to monitor ICU beds with real-time telemetry, high-resolution cameras, voice communication and an ICU decision-support alert system. From the initial 35 beds in two hospitals, Sentara eICU has grown to 132 beds in eight of our 12 hospitals in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, all monitored from a multistation operations center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Why was it risky? Telehealth was an unproven concept. There was no data or consensus on whether investing in this untried technology would provide clinical improvements or lower the cost of care. We were breaking new ground, changing ICU workflows and asking physicians, patients and families to trust this concept.
What was the outcome? Sentara saw a 27% reduction in ICU mortality and a 17% reduction in ICU length of stay. One day less in ICU average length of stay provided the equivalent of 12 built and staffed additional ICU beds. More importantly, it helped facilitate earlier interventions with fragile patients and enhanced collaboration between eICU providers and hard-pressed care teams on the floors.