NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - In a small room at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, a handful of employees monitor the vital signs of more than 100 intensive care unit patients at five hospitals throughout southeastern Virginia by using remote technology that includes video cameras.
Hospital officials say the eICU unit was the first of its type in the country, allowing patients to be monitored by a small staff of medical professional 24 hours a day with the end result being that mortality rates and the length of hospital stays were reduced.
It is that type of innovation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that hospitals around the country could learn from as the nation's health care providers try to cut costs and improve care.
"We will be hooking you up with people around the country who really want to understand what it is that you did and how you did it," Sebelius told a roundtable discussion at the hospital.
Sebelius was in Virginia to promote a hospital safety initiative that's intended to save 60,000 lives over the next three years while also saving money. The eICU unit was one of several initiatives by Sentara that Sebelius highlighted as a way to improve patient safety.
"Unfortunately too many patients are harmed by the care they get in the hospital, not what brought them to the hospital, but what happens to them while they're in the hospital," she said.
The hospital is among those that have committed to the new national Partnership for Patients, which is designed to improve the quality, safety and affordability of health care.
The partnership was launched in April and helps hospitals adopt strategies others have used to reduce infections and medical mistakes and lower their bills.
"The good news is in the three or four weeks since we've announced this we now have 3,000 partners," she said.
Half of the partners are hospitals while the other half are major employers, unions, health insurers and patient advocates, among others.
The goal is to cut hospital-caused harms by 40 percent and hospital readmissions by 20 percent within three years.
The work is funded by $1 billion from the new health care law, but has the potential to save Medicare up to $10 billion in that same time.