October 22, 2014

Iowa VA hospitals to be monitored by docs in Twin Cities

Veterans in intensive care units at Iowa’s two VA hospitals will soon be under the care of doctors in Minneapolis via the Internet.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is going to the “hub and spoke” concept for providing health care in ICUs.

Dr. Craig Piquette, at the Omaha VA Medical Center, says advanced technology will make the Minneapolis VA the hub for several other hospitals in the Midwest.

“Due to the availability of intensive care-trained physicians in Minneapolis, they just have more of them than what we do here,” Dr. Piquette says. “Then the spokes are the seven ICUs across the region which includes facilities in Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Nebraska.”

The technology involved in creating an electronic or “tele-ICU” is already in place in Omaha and Fargo and will be coming soon to Iowa and elsewhere.

He says “That hub in Minneapolis will eventually monitor intensive care units in Iowa City, Des Moines, Omaha, Fargo, Sioux Falls and the Black Hills facilities in western South Dakota.”

Equipment can be placed in a patient’s room at any of the spokes and medical experts at the hub in Minneapolis will monitor that patient’s conditions, in addition to the local staff.

Piquette says, “Our nurse-to-patient ratio is one nurse to every two patients in the ICU but the electronic ICU provides a safety net, another set of eyes that is constantly watching the patient.”

There is a restricted area at the Minneapolis VA equipped with a bank of monitoring screens showing vital signs.

There is also a live two-way audio-video feed that instantly connects the patient, bedside provider and the team of critical care nurses and specialists in Minneapolis.

Piquette says the cameras and monitors show real-time events and the video resolution is remarkable.

He says, “The cameras can focus in on the patient and are able to allow the physician to assess things such as the size of their pupils and a rash on their skin.”

When installation of the tele-ICU service is complete, 75 ICU beds at seven hospitals in five states will be monitored by critical care specialists in the Twin Cities.