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The Catalyst

Partnership will extend MUSC care to ICU patients in home counties

By Lauren Sausser
Of The Post and Courier Staff

Patients who need intensive medical care in rural parts of the state often must travel to Charleston for treatment. But a new partnership between MUSC and a private health care technology company might eliminate those trips for some of the sickest people.

A collaboration between MUSC and Advanced ICU Care will allow physicians to administer intensive care in rural South Carolina via telemedicine.

The technology will help patients with life-threatening conditions in rural counties be seen by MUSC board-certified critical care doctors, also called intensivists, without needing to be transported. Medical staff on site at the rural hospitals will be able to present the patient’s condition to the Charleston doctor in live time via sophisticated video conferencing equipment.

“For a patient in critical condition this access can be the difference between life and death,” said Patrick Cawley, M.D., executive director of the Medical University Hospital Authority.

It also could save the state money. The General Assembly appropriated $12 million to MUSC so it could expand the reach of telemedicine to poorer, rural parts of South Carolina that have limited access to medical doctors and specialists.

The investment is tied to the state government’s broader effort to focus resources on improving health. Expanding MUSC’s telemedicine program was one part of a plan passed by the General Assembly this spring as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The federal government has offered South Carolina billions of dollars to expand the Medicaid program to low-income, uninsured residents, but state leaders here have decided to reject that money. Gov. Nikki Haley has argued that insuring more people won’t make them healthier.

Cawley said he expects the telemedicine technology could be up and running in as many as five rural hospitals by the spring. Both the company and the hospitals are investing money to grow the program, he said.

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It costs about $9,000 to install the telemedicine equipment in each intensive-care room and the hospitals must pay the company a minimum $125,000 implementation fee to join the program. There are also ongoing service fees. Cawley said the state investment will help rural hospitals pay some of these start-up costs.

“Advanced ICU Care is a for-profit company with investors who have the most experience in the entire United States when it comes to tele-critical care deployment. That’s why we choose to work with them,” Cawley said. “Everybody has put something on the table. It’s in everybody’s interest to make this work.”

A press release about the partnership called Advanced ICU Care the “nation’s largest tele-intensive care unit provider.” Mary Jo Gorman, CEO of Advanced ICU Care, said that expanding telemedicine in S.C. will reduce hospital transfers and improve outcomes.

“The Legislature is really seeing the value of bringing this to more people in South Carolina,” Gorman said.

Editor’s note: The article ran in The Post and Courier Aug. 15 and is reprinted with permission.

September 4, 2013

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