Penn State Health has launched a virtual intensive care unit (vICU) program to provide respiratory therapy services to two of its medical centers, with plans to expand to other centers. The program aims to enhance communication between professionals, provide patients with higher-quality care, and increase accessibility to care for larger patient populations. The virtual respiratory therapy services will monitor and manage critically ill patients, support bedside care teams, and break down geographical barriers to quality respiratory care.
Penn State Health has launched a virtual intensive care unit (vICU) program to provide respiratory therapy services to two of its medical centers, with plans to expand to other centers in the future. This initiative aims to improve communication between care team members and provide patients with higher-quality care. Respiratory illnesses are prominent conditions caused by factors such as infection, smoking, secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos, or other forms of air pollution, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Common respiratory diseases include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, and lung cancer.
The virtual respiratory therapy program is designed to provide an additional set of eyes and expertise to monitor and manage critically ill patients throughout the health system. Will Hazard, MD, Director of the vICU, said, “The addition of virtual respiratory care will support bedside care teams when caring for complex patients or when a respiratory therapist may be caring for other patients or not be immediately available.”
The program will help clinicians care for a range of conditions, including monitoring oxygen administration and ventilator management for new patients with respiratory issues. Virtual respiratory therapists will increase accessibility to care, providing layered services in hospitals that may be challenged to fully staff respiratory therapy, particularly during the night. The virtual respiratory therapy services will enable Penn State Health to break down geographical barriers to quality respiratory care that may be influenced by local staff shortages in regions Penn State Health serves.
Foundational efforts for the program began in the fall, with a review of department workflow, shadowing registered nurses in the virtual care program, and training team members on the vICU software. The virtual respiratory therapy program will first launch at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Health Lancaster Medical Center.
The program’s launch follows the footsteps of previous provider efforts to integrate virtual resources and ICU care. In February 2022, Temple University Hospital added a remote patient monitoring sensor to the 100 beds within its ICUs. Through this tool, clinicians can continuously monitor patient position, orientation, activity, and respiration rate. It also alerts clinicians of potential pressure injuries and detects chest movements to track respiration rates.