Telemedicine can be tremendously helpful for outpatient appointments, as it can connect patients to distant providers. However, when it comes to inpatient care in a hospital or medical center, telemedicine can be equally beneficial.
CHI Franciscan Health opened a “virtual hospital” in Tacoma, where nurses and caregivers offer an extra set of eyes to aid the providers and nurses working in each of the health system’s eight hospitals across Western Washington. The virtual monitor technicians monitor patient heart rhythms at all eight hospitals. A growing team of virtual companions can even talk directly with patients using cameras and speakers in select patient rooms. The virtual hospital is structured just like a traditional hospital, with a leadership team and various departments.
If a patient needs immediate care, a caregiver in the virtual hospital can send an urgent message to the hospital floor, often meaning help will be on the way quicker that it would be without the virtual augmentation. In the virtual intensive care unit, a physician can send an advance practice clinician to assess patients urgently or to perform a lifesaving procedure. Caregivers working in the virtual hospital maintain around the clock vigilance on patients in the system.
The centralized virtual hospital model is relatively rare, and CHI Franciscan’s facility is just one of a handful of its kind in the country. It also doesn’t reduce the number of caregivers working on the hospital floor; rather, it serves as another layer of care for patients during their stay.