Critical adult patients at Woman’s Hospital will be monitored through specialized equipment by critical care physicians at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in a partnership between the two hospitals.

A nationwide shortage of critical care physicians — also known as intensivists — has made it difficult for hospitals around the country to recruit the doctors they need in intensive care units.

Using telemedicine technology, specially trained critical care physicians and nurses at Our Lady of the Lake have access to each adult ICU patient’s medical chart and vital signs at Woman’s Hospital. Special video-conferencing equipment in the ICU rooms allows them to see and communicate with patients, doctors and nurses at Woman’s Hospital.

An Our Lady of the Lake intensivist also will visit ICU patients at Woman’s Hospital every day to check their conditions in person.

“By coupling this technology with the bedside expertise at Woman’s Hospital, our patients are receiving the highest level of care possible,” said Patricia Johnson, chief nursing officer at Woman’s Hospital. “This system will not replace the doctors in charge of patient care at Woman’s, but will provide an additional group of clinical experts to closely watch and review the vital signs of our most critical patients every minute of the day.”

“For patients in critical condition, this access can be the difference between life and death,” said Dr. Richard W. Kearley, medical director of Critical Care Medicine at Our Lady of the Lake. “Patients and staff now have instant access to critical care experts who can help manage life-threatening complications that can develop suddenly.”

Roughly 13,000 intensivists are practicing today in the U.S., a number that is projected to remain flat as new intensivists are graduating at the same rate as those retiring. The demand for these physicians is expected to rise dramatically over the next 20 years as more of the population ages and requires intensive care.

“It is a significant issue facing the health care industry and why more than 360 hospitals in the U.S. are now using Mobile Virtual Critical Care technology to monitor more than 10,000 patient beds,” Kearley said.

The oversight of a critical care physician has been shown to benefit patient care in the ICU with reduced mortality rates, reduced use of ventilators and reduced length of stay.

Our Lady of the Lake is home to Louisiana’s first Mobile Virtual Critical Care site, which has been providing services to ICUs at Our Lady of the Lake since 2004 and at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales since 2009.

Through 24-hour continuous monitoring and management, MVCC doctors and nurses may be able to identify subtle “early warning” signs in patients and communicate timely changes to their care plan to keep them out of danger. Woman’s Hospital staff can also instantly access the MVCC Command Center to speak with a critical care expert.

“It’s actually faster than if an intensivist was called and had to travel over there,” Kearley said. “Through the virtual monitoring, it only takes seconds to get a hold of the expertise.”