Essential hospitals across the country are increasingly focusing on improving outcomes of patients in critical care units. With nursing and specialist shortages, hospital leaders are emphasizing getting the most from available resources while maintaining quality and efficiency.

Large academic medical centers often are charged with implementing programs that not only reduce costs, but also help community hospitals and other small facilities provide the best care possible.

The virtual intensive care unit (eICU) is one such program. While eICUs do not replace the traditional bedside ICU nurse, these programs add an additional layer of support to the care team. Using technology — including two-way audio/visual devices and software that uses algorithms to predict patient status — bedside nurses and intensivists know more about their patients than what they see during an assessment. Nurses in an eICU can monitor each body system of each patient in real time, allowing for more prompt treatment.

The eICU at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) is staffed with highly experienced nurses, with an average of 20 years in the field. These nurses can monitor up to 40 patients at a time, document during codes, notify nurses of extubation risks, and prevent falls in high-risk patients. Some eICUs are staffed with additional providers who can place orders and edit patient plans of care, as needed.

Highly experienced nurses staff the eICU program at UMMC.

Our eICU programs provide rural and underserved areas of the state with access to health care services they otherwise would not have. Through the eICU, we have helped rural hospitals prevent unnecessary transfers of patients, allowing these patients to remain in their community and receive care closer to home. Compared with hospitalization in a traditional ICU, patients additionally monitored by an eICU are:

  • 26 percent more likely to survive the ICU;
  • discharged from the ICU 20 percent faster;
  • 16 percent more likely to survive hospitalization overall and be discharged; and
  • discharged from the hospital 15 percent faster.

The use of eICU as a proactive care model continues to support UMMC’s improved outcomes and costs. Similar models could be used in essential hospitals across the country to support our shared mission of ensuring access to care for all people.

Tearsanee Carlisle Davis, DNP, FNP-BC, is the director of clinical and advanced practice operations at UMMC’s Center for Telehealth.