TUESDAY, Dec. 29, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Allowing doctors to monitor intensive care unit patients from remote locations, as a way to save money, doesn't appear to boost the risk of death in patients or make it more likely that they'll spend longer in the ICU, new findings suggest.
Researchers looked at the medical records of patients in five U.S. hospitals, and compared data from 2,034 patients who were cared for in ICUs before doctors began providing services remotely with data from 2,108 who stayed in the ICUs afterward. In some cases, doctors allowed the remote physicians to provide full treatment for patients; in others, the remote physicians only intervened when there was a life-threatening situation.
After adjusting the statistics to account for the severity of illnesses, the researchers found that mortality rates stayed about the same during both periods. The patients also stayed about the same length of time in the ICU, according to the report published in the Dec. 23/30 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Given the expense of tele-ICU technology, the conflicting evidence about its effectiveness, and the existence of other effective quality improvement interventions for ICUs, further use of this technology should proceed in the context of careful monitoring of patient outcomes and costs," the study authors wrote.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has a story about telemedicine.