VA Tele-ICU to care for critically ill Air Force patients

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U.S. Air Force patients at five military treatment facilities around the country will receive virtual care from Department of Veterans Affairs clinicians via the VA’s Tele-Intensive Care Unit capabilities.

Available through a centralized support center located at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, the Tele-ICU is a telemedicine service that provides electronic access to specialty-trained, board-certified critical care physicians— intensivists—as well as experienced critical care nurses to continuously monitor and assist in the care of critically ill patients.

Thanks to a 2015 Department of Defense-VA Health Care Sharing Incentive Fund, Air Force patients in Anchorage, Alaska, Biloxi, Miss., Dayton, Ohio, Hampton, Va., and Las Vegas will benefit from the VA Tele-ICU’s telecommunications equipment and software. It is the first DoD-VA collaboration of its kind.

Among the technological capabilities offered as part of the initiative is software that remotely tracks and monitors real-time physiological data at the patient bedside and critical lab data, when then generates algorithm-based critical alerts to the Tele-ICU doctors and nurses.

“Tele-ICU is more than just a way of providing remote care,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD. “We know it improves the quality of care, decreases costs by supporting evidence-based practices and it improves patient outcomes through decreased ventilator days, ventilator-associated pneumonias and reduced lengths of stay. We are pleased to partner with the Air Force in this effort.”

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Live, two-way audio and video feeds enable patients to see and hear the remote ICU physicians and nurses, while the clinicians are able to see and hear the patient in real time. In addition, physicians review charts, perform consultations, order tests or procedures, prescribe medications, make diagnoses, and discuss treatments with patients and family members.

The Tele-ICU is meant to supplement on-site coverage at facilities that do not have enough critical care specialists to meet the demand. According to VA officials, the telemedicine services provided range from consultative to full clinical support and may be time-based such as PRN (pro re nata), only at night, or up to 24/7 coverage.

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