Cameras watch over ICU patients


The busy intensive care unit at St. Lukes Hospital in San Francisco handles some of the toughest cases. For physicians like Dr. Lauren Friedly, monitoring their patients 24/7 is a constant challenge.

"So although I can be at the bedside when a patient is critically ill and needs my attention, I can't have my eyes on them all the time, so it's really comforting to have another set of eyes," she says.

Comforting, even if those eyes are miles away. While St. Luke's is located in the city's Mission District, patients in the ICU are also being monitored by a second team of doctors across town.

It's a high-tech nerve center that tracks patients from 15 hospitals. Known as Sutter Health's E-ICU, the center provides everything from routine monitoring, to crisis support.

Dr. Thomas Shaughnessy is the medical director.

"We perform about 17,000 encounters a year, amongst the hospitals we're serving. That translates loosely into about one intervention every 20 minutes," he says.

Cameras positioned in each room allow doctors and nurses at the E-ICU hub to zoom in on instruments or patients themselves. Information flows into individual stations via high-speed streaming.

"I can see lab results, I can see EKG, I can see the patients themselves, I can see if there's a problem arising, says nurse Monica Volker.

Besides alerting the individual ICU's about potential problems, the E-ICU staff also includes specially trained physicians known as intensivists. They're available to consult if on-site specialists aren't available. Shaughnessy points to successes battling conditions common to ICU patients. He says cases of sepsis, a full body infection, dropped by more than one-third.

"That translates into about 1,300 lives saved over a three year period for us," he says.

Saved, with the help of a high-tech shadow team, watching over some of the Bay Area's most vulnerable patients.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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