Southern Arizona VA brings virtual healthcare to ICUs

These providers enter patient rooms, via a screen and camera, from Chicago, Minneapolis or even Las Vegas to name a few.
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 5:16 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - By now, many of us are used to the idea of things going virtual: remote schooling, virtual concerts and even awards shows.

Virtual healthcare has made strides during the pandemic. Now, the Southern Arizona VA is using virtual critical care teams in their ICU.

It is a new dawn for healthcare. Virtual nurses and critical care staff are now on a sleek monitor in the Southern Arizona VA. These are real healthcare providers with critical care experience, but they are not in Tucson, or even Arizona. These providers enter patient rooms, via a screen and camera, from Chicago, Minneapolis or even Las Vegas to name a few.

“That’s become part of our action plan to address COVID, but also what happens beyond COVID,” said Sierra Holloway, clinical nurse manager of the ICU for the Southern Arizona VA.

The camera will turn around and turn on, along with mics and this monitor when a patient might be showing different levels, or when prompted by an in-person nurse or doctor by a simple button.

“They see exactly what we’re seeing on the screens, and they can see the patient with the high-definition cameras,” said Dr. Dhaval Thakkar, a critical care doctor for the Southern Arizona VA.

While it does not replace the boots on the ground so to speak, it adds additional monitoring of patients, another set of eyes to ensure high levels of patient care. Plus, during a pandemic, it can help with small routine checks, when in-person staff would have to don and doff their PPE.

“It’s just another kind of guardian angel to help us kind of be like, ‘Hey maybe look into this a little deeper if you haven’t already,’” said Thakkar. “So, it’s just kind of a second checks and balances, I think.”

With a staffing crisis across healthcare professions, this is a solution to help ICUs and patients stretch what they have. The VA said patients will be able to opt out and patient privacy is important.

“When the system is not activated, the camera itself is on default turned around and the microphones are off, so it’s only when it’s activated does that happen,” said Thakkar.

It could be the future of pandemic health care and health care in general. While in person care will never be replaced, the ability to see patients more often, even if through a camera, is a big plus.

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