Wilkes Medical Center hospital doctors

ADVANCED ICU CARE is used in the Wilkes Medical Center intensive care unit to help monitor patients’ health via voice, two-way camera and high-speed data connections. At left is Dr. Joe Pinkerton, assistant medical director of hospital medicine. At right is Dr. Earl Webster, hospitalist director at Wilkes Medical Center.

Things are looking up for some of Wake Forest Baptist Health-Wilkes Medical Center’s sickest patients and the medical staff who care for them through a collaboration with Advanced ICU Care, a provider of telemedicine services.

Advanced ICU Care’s remote critical care team provides 24-hour, non-invasive supervision of patients’ vital signs, medications, lab results and clinical status while communicating via a two-way video camera and monitor mounted overhead in each of the eight patient rooms of the intensive care unit.

“Advanced ICU Care functions as a second set of eyes for our intensivist (another term for critical care doctor), intensive care unit (ICU) nurses and other bedside staff,” said Dr. Earl Webster, hospitalist director at Wilkes Medical Center.

“The system helps identify issues before they become serious or tweaks certain aspects of a patient’s care depending on the situation. It’s a synergistic partnership designed to ultimately benefit and help reduce stress for the patient and their family, who can actually see and talk to the person on the monitor and they (Advanced ICU Care staff) can see and talk to them,” said Webster.

Use of secure video and audio technology to connect care providers in smaller health care facilities with off-site specialists or intensivists, such as those employed by Advanced ICU Care, is a growing trend in the health care industry.

Designed to complement high-intensity ICU staff coverage, studies show this approach can significantly improve patient outcomes and safety in critical care units. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tele-monitoring ICU programs result in shorter hospital stays and lower rates of preventable complications.

“We inform all our ICU patients they’re going to be monitored by a critical care ICU specialist, in addition to our own highly-trained team, making it possible to keep them (patients) here, within their own community, versus transferring them out to another facility,” explained Webster.

Patients know that the Advanced ICU Care specialist or clinician will soon appear on the video monitor screen when they hear a doorbell chime. This only occurs when a doctor, nurse or other staff are present.

Webster said patients—along with family and visitors—can maintain privacy because the camera isn’t turned on or listening 24/7. It’s facing a wall when not in use.

“Here at Wilkes Medical Center, the attending physician is responsible for all designated patient care,” said Dr. Joe Pinkerton, the hospital’s assistant medical director of hospital medicine.

“Working in the ICU is more of a collaborative team effort on all fronts. I’ve talked to a doctor on the monitor for more than an hour with the patient right there, talking right along with us. It’s like having a board-certified, care intensive physician in the room with me to bounce things off of and brainstorm, and who’s also available 24/7, literally at a moment’s notice.”

For those times when physicians such as Pinkerton or Webster are not present in a patient’s room, each ICU unit is equipped with a “panic button,” making a specialist available almost instantly to help nurses and other bedside staff.

Having worked as a physician in Wilkes for more than 26 years, Pinkerton said he loves being able to treat sicker patients within his own community. “What makes things even better for me is knowing that our patients are getting state-of-the-art-care in our very own ICU without having to travel miles and miles away,” he added.

Webster said that when patients are transferred to another facility outside of Wilkes, they sometimes lose their community support because not everyone in their “inner circle” is able to visit them every day.

“Having a hand to hold, having loved ones and friends near is so crucial to the healing process, which is why having access to technologically innovative care and support like this is so beneficial,” he said.

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