BOISE -- St. Luke's Health System uses a unique patient monitoring system for its intensive care patients by adding a team of doctors and nurses monitoring patient rooms remotely.

The program, known as an eICU for Electronic Intensive Care Unit, works almost like a control room for intensive care. St. Luke's was the first in the state to have this type of program and remains the largest eICU in the mountain west region.

Doctors say this type of telemedicine is linked to increased patient safety and fewer deaths in hospital ICUs. The program does not completely replace traditional bedside doctors and nurses, but adds remote staff to help quickly monitor vital signs and even quickly check in with patients via a video feed.

On the day KTVB toured the unit, Nurse Katy Weber was remotely monitoring 16 patients in the state. She introduced herself to a new patient, explaining that she'll work with traditional bedside nurses and doctors to keep an eye on her.

So we electronically monitor as a second set of eyes. So we can see your vital signs, lab values, medications and things like that, Weber told the patient.

That particular patient was in the Boise hospital, but eICU doctors and nurses located in Boise monitor patients in other hospitals around the state.

We actually monitor all the ICU beds as part of St. Luke's Health System here in the Treasure Valley and also monitor beds out in Twin Falls and some of the outlying communities like Wood River and Jerome, Dr. Brian Goltry, eICU medical director, said.

Goltry says a shortage in nurses and ICU doctors makes this type of program even more valuable to create efficiency in monitoring, which he says has proven to equate to safer care.

What we've actually identified with the program, following that type of model, is they've been able to actually decrease the death rate or mortality in ICUs by approximately 20 percent, as well as decrease the length of stay in hospitals to about 30 percent, Goltry said. And what that translates to for some hospitals is obviously lower costs as well as better outcomes for patients.

Weber says in emergencies, the bedside staff is still the first-line hands-on defense, but remotely, she and the other eICU staff have caught potentially dangerous vital signs or other issues and alerted bedside staff to go into a room.

We catch things all the time with eICU. This morning even, I was rounding video rounds on a patient, and she was actively trying to get out of bed, Weber said. I was able to alert the bedside staff to quickly go in and make sure that she didn't fall out of bed.

St. Luke's received an $11.7 million grant to start the eICU program. The program is around two years into the grant and has another year or so left. After the grant runs out, the program will remain at St. Luke's and will be self-sustaining.

Goltry says around 15 percent of ICU's in the country are using electronic monitoring, and doctors expect that number will only grow.

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