UW Health's Virtual ICU Saves Lives

When patients are in an intensive care unit in the wake of surgery or serious trauma or illness, they require constant care. These critically ill patients rely on highly skilled, experienced intensive care physicians and nurses to monitor their medical condition around the clock because life-threatening complications can happen at any moment, day or night. In the ICU, speed of response can make the difference between life and death.

This year, UW Health launched a virtual intensive care unit that provides an extra level of support to ICU staff and helps ensure that ICU patients have immediate access to the safest, highest quality of care possible. UW Health's Trauma and Life Center (TLC) patients are cared for by their bedside medical team as well as by a virtual intensive care medical team. Known as e-Care of Wisconsin, the virtual ICU consists of a staff of board-certified intensivists and critical care nurses connected to patient care areas by a sophisticated monitoring and communication system.

The program uses advanced medical software, cameras and microphones to link the virtual ICU with monitored beds in the TLC. During scheduled "rounds," the off-site staff can check on patients using the cameras with zoom capabilities powerful enough to examine a patient's pupils. Patients' clinical data is sent electronically in real-time through secure connections to an e-Care Center. Patients' vital signs are continuously recorded, allowing the system to alert e-Care staff when a patient's condition changes.

The new technology does not replace the care provided at the bedside or the personal connection that is vital to patients' emotional and physical healing. Rather, the technology enhances bedside care. Nurses, for example, can stay focused on patients, rather than spending valuable time calling physicians when a patient's condition worsens. Intensivists are always available for immediate consult with a push of a button.

This summer, an ICU at St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield also became connected to e-Care of Wisconsin. This extra level of care is even more critical in smaller community hospitals, that may not have 24/7 intensivist staff. In fact, research shows that virtual ICU care reduces complications and saves lives.