Patients at the Mayo Clinic’s network of Intensive Care Units now have an extra pair of expert eyes watching over them as they recover.
The world-renowned research and treatment facility has built a central telemedicine hub to monitor half a dozen ICUs at once, boosting the level of care available to its patients. The innovation is as a big a step forward for telemedicine itself as it is for healthcare in general. The technology of using video conferencing to link patients and doctors in real-time visual conversation is moving beyond experiment to be implemented as a practical healthcare aid.
The link between the Mayo Clinic and telemedicine is especially strong, given the former’s research into the latter. Now the partnership is creating real-world solutions that can be copied and applied in healthcare settings across the country. Telemedicine is no novelty, but here at VC Daily we’re happy to see it actively saving lives.
The Mayo Clinic and Telemedicine
The Mayo Clinic’s new telemedicine hub operates out of a hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. From this central room, a series of interactive video conferencing links provide ICU specialists with face-to-face instant communication with eight other ICUs in hospitals as far flung as Wisconsin and Georgia.
With round-the-clock supervision, experts in the Rochester hospital have access to all the information housed on-site at each remote hospital, as well as direct links to local staff. The remote monitoring program has proved so successful it has led to a dramatic improvement in mortality rates at some locations, with some reporting rates 73% lower than expected. The key is that the second set of eyes watching from the central hub provides a different view of what’s happening on the ground. Free from the hustle and bustle of a working ICU, these experts are able to concentrate solely on basic observation.
It’s a practical use of an advanced technology, and just one of a number of telemedicine programs the Mayo Clinic is currently operating.
What Telemedicine Can Do
The Mayo Clinic has long pursued the possibilities of telemedicine. It currently has projects associated with many different healthcare fields. These include concussion monitoring and long-term treatment, remote consultations within specialist areas like newborn resuscitation, a telestroke program for quicker patient diagnosis, and the use of telepresence robots to virtually visit distant hospitals or even patient homes.
The Clinic has also developed its own telemedicine app that can be used to schedule appointments or just seek out advice on things like nutrition and fitness.
These advances have the potential to bring telemedicine into the day-to-day lives of real people. The central hub we mentioned at the start of this post, however, is perhaps the most exciting use of this cutting-edge partnership of medicine and technology. It just needs to increase in scale and be tailored to other medical fields to have a big impact on how healthcare is delivered in the digital age.
Making the Most of the Doctors Available
Video conferencing, and its medical cousin telemedicine, can put a person in two places at once. Or five places, or a dozen. In so doing, it can amplify the talents and capabilities of an individual to the point where they can act as a multitude.
As the aging U.S. population begins to experience a shortage in trained physicians–we can expected a shortfall of more than 90,000 doctors by 2025–the strategic placement of those talents is going to become crucial. A service like the Mayo Clinic’s remote ICU surveillance program could gather those dwindling medical resources into central locations where they can, via telemedicine, be shared out across the country.
There’s a similar program running in New Mexico, called Project Echo, that has been built around the same central hub idea. In this version, a roster of medical specialists is made available online to primary care physicians working in rural communities throughout the state. When the PCP encounters a case they’ve never come across before, they can turn on their webcam and seek out advice from a virtual peer online.
Combining the Mayo Clinic’s and Project Echo’s projects might result in central hubs built to aid patients, hospitals, and doctors. These hubs could link to community healthcare facilities across the country where expert, virtual advice could guide general practice nurses and doctors through their primary care roles. It works in theory for emergency rooms, delivery rooms, and private practice as well, forming a network of shared expert resources on hand via telemedicine to deliver premium healthcare.
That’s the kind of real-world impact that once-experimental telemedicine is now becoming capable of providing.