Telehealth expanding at Memorial Hospital Los Banos

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comJuly 8, 2014 

Like many community hospitals in the Central Valley, Memorial Hospital Los Banos struggled to recruit critical care intensivists to the area. However, 10 years ago, Sutter Health, the hospital’s parent company, invested in an alternative that, according to hospital officials, has worked just as well and is ready to expand.

The solution? A 24-hour electronic Intensive Care Unit that monitors patients from a small room of experts nearly 150 miles away in central hubs in Sacramento and San Francisco.

According to John Winchell, eICU director in the Sacramento region, Sutter’s eICU was the first of its kind on the West Coast and second in the nation. Winchell said the system allows all patients to have access to a team of physicians and nurses specifically trained in the care of the critically ill, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Ten years ago, we made the decision that every patient should have a quality level of expertise available to them,” Winchell said, “and this gives us the ability to do that.”

The eICU uses high-speed data transmission in-room cameras to monitor patients and provide crisis interventions. Winchell said having cameras in the room gives patients a sense of security. Sutter plans to advance the technology by implementing two-way communication so the patient and his or her family can speak directly with the specialists in Sacramento, Winchell said.

“We’re like air traffic controllers,” Winchell said. “We can see the big picture and provide support to nurses when needed.”

Memorial Hospital Los Banos is one of the 18 hospitals that benefit from this advanced technology. Memorial Medical Center in Modesto also provides eICU services.

Nina Allen, inpatient services manager at Memorial Hospital Los Banos, said telemedicine has made a significant difference to patients and medical staff.

“A lot of times, prior to the ICU, we would have to transfer our patients elsewhere because we just didn’t have the resources,” Allen said. “But now we can take care of our patients at a higher level. We just have to get on the phone with one of the specialists that has been watching the patient.”

The only better option than the $25 million eICU investment would be intensivists, Winchell said, but there aren’t enough to attend all critically ill patients.

As Sutter celebrates its decadelong success, it announced the eICU expansion in other areas of the hospital. “We’ve seen how this extra set of eyes on our sickest patients helps clinicians at the bedside save lives and reduce the time patients spend in a hospital,” Winchell said. “We want to extend this advanced technology into other areas of our hospitals, like the emergency room, to further improve medical care quality.”

Staff at Memorial Hospital Los Banos will test eICU mobile carts in the emergency room that will enable caregivers to identify patients at risk for sepsis, a deadly bloodstream infection, at an earlier stage.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Winchell said. “We have all sorts of opportunities for further growth.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.

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