Keeping an Extra Eye on the ICU


Patient Care | In any hospital after hours, it’s typical to see fewer staff making the rounds. But patients in the intensive-care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania now get an extra level of oversight, thanks to the new Penn E-lert system.

From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., patients are carefully monitored from the medical equivalent of an “air-traffic control center” just blocks away, at 3440 Market Street. Penn E-lert allows critical-care physicians and nurses to observe patients in the ICU continuously with voice, video (when appropriate), and physiological monitors. The system is expected to become standard in all ICUs in the Penn Health System within two years.

A critical-care physician “sits at a command center in the system lab that monitors all the data of all patients we’re covering,” explains Dr. C. William Hanson, medical director of the Penn E-lert Program. “A nurse also watches the data. There’s a camera and microphone in each patient’s room. If they notice anything wrong, they can talk to the bedside nurse or physician [via the microphone or a phone call], or they can intervene directly.”

Penn E-lert features patented eICU technology developed by Visicu, a company based in Baltimore.

In the past, an ICU doctor might be able to devote only a few minutes to checking up on each patient while making rounds. Penn E-lert helps leverage scarce ICU resources by electronically connecting all patients with critical-care physicians, especially during off-hours such as nights and weekends.

Hanson illustrates a scenario in which Penn E-lert can make a difference to patients: “If a patient was having respiratory issues and they were not picked up appropriately enough or quickly enough because a nurse was tied up with another patient, the doctor [at the command center] could call a nurse to have the patient put on a respirator much quicker” than would otherwise be possible.

—Chelsea Tanimura C’06

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/05/05

GAZETTEER: News & Sports

Facing the music on downloading?
Learning about Penn “shouldn’t be an accident”
Penn and government settle 1999 gene-therapy case
New guidelines allow gender-neutral housing
Therapy that restores dog’s sight could help children
Q&A with SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell
Three new biomedical institutes at Penn Medicine
Two students win Marshall scholarships
Penn E-lert improves ICU oversight
MLK Symposium examines social justice and sexuality
Wharton student charged in murder
Basketball: Comeback Kids

Mar|Apr Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue's column