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Dr Tariq Cheema Discusses Allegheny Health Network's Virtual ICU Program


Tariq Cheema, MD, division chair of pulmonary critical care sleep and allergy medicine at Allegheny Health Network (AHN), discusses how the virtual ICU (vICU) program has improved access to patient care.

The virtual ICU (vICU) program allows for patients to receive critical care remotely from the comfort of their homes, says Tariq Cheema, MD, division chair of pulmonary critical care sleep and allergy medicine at Allegheny Health Network (AHN).


How does the vICU program work and what metrics or data are being used to assess the impact of the program on cost savings, patient outcomes, and overall health care quality?

What we look at is the length of stay of a patient in the ICU. That's one of the metrics that we look at. We look at the number of transfers from an ICU from one hospital to another. We look at the time spent on a ventilator because that was one of the big things that we realized pretty early in this process; that care doesn’t stop at 5pm. Physicians were able to actually take patients off ventilators even in the middle of the night, because they were there in real-time monitoring these patients and able to direct the nurses and the therapists to start reading the personnel ventilator. So, those are the main metrics that we were looking for. But all the metrics that we looked at were significantly impacted by this effort.

What specific patient outcomes or improvements have been observed since the implementation of the vICU program?

Yeah, so as I said, the biggest impact that we saw from this virtual ICU program was keeping the patients in the peripheral hospitals without the need to move them down to Pittsburgh. So, I think that was very impactful, it helped support the local hospitals. Patient satisfaction went up significantly, because they were able to stay in the community and being taken care of with the same level of expertise that they would if they had to be transferred out. I think that was a big success and was well received by everybody in the community as well as in the hospitals.

Can you share insights into how the vICU collaboration has impacted the hospital's ability to provide care in rural communities?

Yeah, so obviously, having a virtual ICU program where you have 24-hour coverage by a critical care physician and critical care nurses, provides the local hospital with that extra benefit of having an expert physician monitoring their patients. Smaller hospitals always have the issue of staffing, their senses may not be high enough to provide a FTE [full-time equivalent] for a physician to be there at night. By having a system like this, where one physician can cover multiple hospitals, it gives you that extra layer of protection for a smaller hospital to keep their patients in the community and be able to manage a critically ill patient that they otherwise would not be able to do so. So, it has been extremely beneficial for some for local hospitals because it helps keep patients in the community and helps the hospital generate revenue by keeping the patients there without transferring them.

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