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Increasing geriatric population, rise in chronic ailments, need to manage pandemic like situations, and technological developments are expected to be key drivers of the global tele-ICU (also Electronic Intensive Care Unit or eICU) market. While USA and Europe are key markets, the adoption of tele-ICUs is expected to grow in developing nations like India also.
Intensive care units (ICUs) are a vital component of any health care system. Today, ICUs are faced with several challenges, including a growing number of patients in need of critical care, an increasing geriatric population, and a scarcity of trained doctors and staff capable of managing ICU patients. Tele-ICUs can address the critical care staffing deficit by empowering clinicians in a single "command centre" to monitor, consult, and care for ICU patients in distant and different locations. Tele-ICUs can effectively enhance productivity as well as reach of critical care teams by increasing the number of ICU patients that they can manage. Active engagement of tele-ICUs can decrease mortality rates and reduce patients’ length of stay at the ICU.
A tele-ICU empowers off-site clinicians to interact with bedside staff to consult on patient care through real-time audio, video and electronic resources. A centralized care team can handle several geographically scattered ICU locations to electronically exchange health data in real time. A tele-ICU offers able support to increasingly scarce clinical resources.
Tele-ICUs assume vital importance in a crisis, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. These systems can expedite patient screening, control triage, and convey clear instructions on the need for testing of admitted patients. More importantly, a tele-ICU enables close supervision of patients suspected or diagnosed with COVID from distant locations. This reduces exposure time of bedside staff.
In 2020, Houston Methodist Hospital employed mobile carts equipped with iPad devices and provided tele-ICU support across the premises, enabling remote teams to supervise patients entering emergency department, and transferring them to other units to prevent escalation to the ICU. These carts also assisted remote teams to consult on COVID-19 patients waiting for ICU beds.
In 2021, a pneumonia patient with a history of hypertension, diabetes and coronary artery disease was admitted to a local hospital in Nalgonda, Telangana, India. The patient was remotely monitored by an e-ICU team from Apollo Hospital. He was kept under supervision by the Apollo team even after he was discharged from the local hospital through a monitor (connected to the tele-ICU) provided to his family. Five days after being discharged, the patient experienced sudden breathlessness and palpitations. The real-time tele-ICU showed a heart-rhythm disorder and a decline in oxygen saturation levels. Apollo Hospital immediately notified the family and the local hospital, and paramedics were sent to the patient's house. Through instructions given by the doctor via tele-ICU, the patient was stabilized.
The cases above highlight the use and utility of tele-ICUs in critical situations. Further, tele-ICUs are being increasingly adopted across the globe, including in developing nations like India.
However, tele-ICUs adoption may face some barriers in the form of higher operational and installation costs and weak telecommunication connectivity in parts of developing nations.
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