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VT Health System Offers Tele-ICU, Specialized Telemedicine Care

An interconnected health system in southwestern Vermont offers patients highly specialized telemedicine care and tele-ICU services.

VT health system offers tele-ICU and specialized telemedicine care

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

A health system in Vermont launched a new telemedicine initiative that increases access to Tele-ICU and other forms of highly specialized patient care.

Southwestern Vermont Medical System (SVMS) partnered with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System to deliver three types of specialty telemedicine that meet care demands and improve care outreach.

The first is a teleneurology program that went online earlier this year. Administrators at SVMS launched the program to increase the speed of care for patients experiencing emergent neurological conditions and to ensure patients had access to a neurologist.

“SVMC does not have a neurologist available 24 hours a day. Telemedicine allows us to access a board-certified neurologist whenever we need one,” said Trey Dobson, chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and medical director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians.

“That is going to make a big difference for patients experiencing stroke and other neurological emergencies,” he said.

Emergency telemedicine services also went online in May. This allows SVMC to connect with emergency specialists via video conferencing. The specialists then can be called upon to consult with SVMC’s board-certified emergency doctors.

“These emergency specialists can oversee and conduct routine tasks that can keep providers and nurses at the computer, rather than at the bedside,” Dobson said. “Additionally, for complex cases, we can quickly form a team using our own doctors and nurses and doctors from Dartmouth-Hitchcock.”

The third telemedicine program involves the use of Tele-ICU within intensive care units, and is expected to be available in the fall.

Tele-ICU will provide 24/7 continuous monitoring for physicians and nurses to support SVMC’s onsite physicians and ICU staff. This will let SVMC’s most vulnerable patients remain at SVMC, rather than be transferred to a hospital farther from their families. The service also provides SVMC staff access to education on the latest advances in intensive care.

Specialists available for telemedicine consults are located at either Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Center for Connected Care in Lebanon, NH, or through a company called Specialist on Call that uses doctors in locations nationwide.

A connection to a specialist is made via a high-definition live two-way audio-video camera and a Wi-Fi-enabled monitor that is mounted to a wall or mobile cart. The camera is operated by the telespecialist and can zoom in to evaluate how dilated a neurological patient’s eyes are for neurological evaluations.

SVMC clinical staff provide health history and serve as a physical representative for the remote specialist. These staff members make recommendations alongside the physicians at SVMC.

Telemedicine’s ability to deliver specialty care to highly vulnerable patients is expanding. Providers can deliver remote, flexible healthcare delivered to patients without much activity needed on the patient’s behalf.

Hospitals are implementing home-based telemedicine throughout the country because they’re recognizing that some people don’t have access to specialists and need to facilitate their individual care needs within the home. Customized home telemedicine for specialized care is one such example.

Tele-ICU allows health systems to connect with one another and take team-based/health system-wide approaches to treating very vulnerable patients. This lets smaller care facilities coordinate and connect proper specialists with 24/7 coverage of patients in critical conditions.

Specialty care teams can even use specialized telemedicine, like telepharmacy, to lower care disparities across patient populations. These teams can also deliver high quality healthcare regardless of location, or condition, and can even use it to improve a patient’s health literacy.

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