MUSC doctors working on new technology for possible ICU surge

Updated: Jul. 9, 2020 at 4:43 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A team of doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina are working on new technology to help in the fight against the coronavirus.

Teams from across the United States are participating in the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center’s competition to create a telehealth prototype that would help hospitals and patients if intensive care units were over-capacity.

Seventy-eight teams were initially invited to complete a series of tasks and MUSC’s team is now one of nine still competing.

The MUSC team is led by Dr. Leslie Lenert, assistant provost for data science and informatics and chief research information officer and Dr. Dee Ford, director of the MUSC Telehealth Center of Excellence and professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care.

Right now there are enough ICU beds at MUSC but other hospitals around the state are at their tipping point and are close to being over-capacity. The doctors are rolling out new technology to create a “virtual ward” that could bring high-quality care to besides in a healthcare facility, field hospital, gymnasium or your home.

The ICUs would have wireless monitoring technology which could collect COVID-19 related data and specialists at MUSC, or another hub, could decide whether the patient needs to be moved to a different level of care. This technology would allow ICUs to be moved around which could be especially helpful for rural communities.

“If we can build this out in a way that makes sense for our rural colleagues, but also for the experts in the larger centers, then you can bring that expertise remotely to these communities that don’t have it,” Dr. Ford said. “Who, in the past, would bring the patient to us but now aren’t able to do that.”

The team was given 15 days to complete the first task which they have turned in for evaluation. They expect the teams to be whittled down until only two or three are left. However, even if MUSC’s team doesn’t end up in the final there, the technology will still be used.

“It’s already happening. So if you get COVID-19 you can be in our home-monitoring program right now. We can send you home with continuous monitoring right now,” Dr. Lenert said. “We’re ready to go here and we have the tools to begin to manage this.”

While this technology is exciting, Dr. Lenert said South Carolinians need to do their part to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“We need to continue to invest in these systems, to be ready in case things get worse,” he added. “There is no guarantee the vaccines will be ready in time to slow a fall pandemic or wave of the pandemic. We are in a very bad position if it grows even faster then it’s growing now.”

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