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How Cincinnati VA Is Virtually At Bedside Of Hundreds Across The Nation

Ann Thompson
Nurses and doctors monitor dozens of computer screens at all hours of the day and night from Cincinnati to take care of critially ill patients at government hospitals nationwide.

The Cincinnati VA Medical Center did such a good job monitoring critically ill patients remotely in other Ohio hospitals that its doctors and nurses now watch over hundreds of government hospital beds in states east of the Mississippi.

The Tele-ICU is one step in the VA's effort to build a virtual hospital, according to Operations Director Michael Torok. He and Nurse Manager Chad Daniels show off a big room inside the John Weld Peck federal building where nurses and doctors sit at stations watching eight computer screens each.

Critically ill patients are triaged and, one at a time, their information is displayed on those screens -- everything from medical records to bedside video. Often they talk to the patient.

"The software is pretty smart," says Torok. "So what it's doing is it's always combing through the patient's medical records, looking for triggers." If necessary doctors from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore and Atlanta can be called in with the push of a button to order tests or write orders.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
This center cares for critically ill patients in 19 VA Medical Centers east of the Mississippi.

The Tele-ICU also covers some VA emergency rooms. Medical Director Ralph Panos says eventually the center will take on other medical fields. "We're also working to collaborate with the Tele-Stroke program nationally and Tele-Mental Health to provide mental health services to emergency departments and potentially ICUs."

Wounded veteran Sgt. HT Tran praised the Cincinnati VA Tele-ICU program at its grand opening September 27 at the federal building. It had outgrown its space at the VA Medical Center in Corryville and moved downtown. "This center that you have today -- that's a beacon of hope," Trans said. "For the first time seeing that, to me that's like looking down at our future veterans. That is the gateway. That is amazing!"