The intensive care unit of a hospital provides specialised care to patients, particularly those with severe trauma or burns, neurological conditions, or infants that need to be monitored. The serious nature of the patients’ conditions makes the quality of the equipment and technology available of prime concern.
ICU equipment is necessary for monitoring patients, providing respiratory and cardiac support, managing pain, and providing life support. It is also important to be able to store key pieces of equipment in one transportable trolley or work station, to easily move between units in an emergency. Constant technological developments are therefore necessary for providing increasingly improved patient care. At the same time however, an increasingly growing range of equipment can become counterproductive in ICUs.
The critical condition of the patients means numerous pieces of equipment are needed to ensure their safety. This can become an overwhelming and confusing environment for staff, with 41% of nurses saying they are prevented from giving essential care to a patient because they have to monitor too many different devices. When non-standardised equipment is used, it can become even more complicated to manage multiple devices made by different manufacturers, each with their own methods of operation.
Clearly, this presents a challenge, as improvements in ICU technology are needed to provide advanced care for patients but can also degrade the quality of patient care by complicating the process. So, what challenges are nurses and doctors facing exactly, and what improvements are being made to ICU processes and technology to improve patient care?
According to Transform Healthcare, the ICU has not undergone major improvements or upgrades over the past 50 years. In fact, many of the tools intended to assist with monitoring patients have proven to be a nuisance. False alarms are hugely common in ICU, with nurses answering a false alarm every 90 seconds. This means that patients who actually need care do not receive it on time, because nurses are spending time answering false alarms. This bombardment of false alarms can also lead to alarm fatigue, where nurses may miss legitimate alerts due to the being desensitised or overwhelmed by notifications.
Often, none of these medical devices are linked, meaning a variety of equipment and alarms are constantly beeping and buzzing, creating a confusing environment.
To combat alarm fatigue, numerous technological developments are being implemented in ICUs across the world. Manual processes like adjusting bed angles can be done automatically by technologically advanced beds, so that nurses can focus on more critical jobs. Wearable devices, noise-cancelling acoustics and other new ICU technologies are all being developed and implemented to create a quieter environment for both nurses and patients.
One particular case study where technology has been used to improve the safety of patients is at Alamance Regional Medical Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they have implemented Tele-ICU. This new technology reduced the number of ICU deaths by 20%, indicating its potential for implementation in ICUs around the world.
Tele-ICU sends patient data to a 24/7 operations hub that is able to monitor the patient. If the status of the patient deteriorates, the hospital team is alerted. This early intervention and constant monitoring allows patients to be helped before their condition worsens significantly. ARMC have found this technology particularly useful at night, on weekends and during holidays when there are less staff to physically monitor patients around the clock.
However, Tele-ICU isn’t intended to be a way to remove staff or save on resources. As ICU patients are of a critical nature, Tele-ICU is simply a necessary part of providing additional care to those who need it the most.
Technology has both improved and complicated ICU processes. An increase in alerts and the complexity of equipment has meant that nurses and doctors may struggle with responding to their patients or operating countless pieces of machinery. Now, there is a move towards smarter usage of technology that streamlines and simplifies ICU processes through automation, remote monitoring and standardised equipment. Measures are also being taken to make ICU a more peaceful place for patients and allowing family members to Facetime or Skype with patients.
More developments are needed to reduce chaos and confusion in the ICU, and to ensure that patients receive timely and accurate care. Trends in the healthcare industry indicate that there is a move towards smarter forms of technology in ICU, which is a positive sign for both staff and patients alike.