Sixteen Sacramento doctors are aiming to revolutionize the way medicine is practiced.
They've formed Performance ICU, a company that proposes to monitor patients in intensive-care units hundreds of miles away. It's similar to the telemedicine already being used to address a shortage of doctors in rural communities.
"Baby boomers are getting older," said Dr. Muhammad Afzal, CEO of Performance ICU. "When they get sick, they get really sick."
Afzal said the country's aging population is increasing the demand for critical-care doctors who staff ICUs.
From a state-of-the-art monitoring center in Sacramento, doctors will monitor vital signs and even watch their patients in real time through high-definition cameras. They will be able to do everything short of touching the patient, Afzal said. A local doctor will always be available if the need arises, he added.
The practice of telemedicine is nothing new – it's been around for more than a decade. What differentiates Performance ICU from other companies in the field, Afzal said, is that his firm provides the whole package – equipment and doctors.
Telemedicine is particularly important in rural areas, where specialists are scarce. A report by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine stated "as many as 40,500 adult patients in an ICU may die with an ICU misdiagnosis annually." The report suggests hospitals employ more critical-care physicians to minimize the deaths.
Performance ICU expects to start operations within six months and eventually monitor 100 hospital beds in the western United States by the end of the first year. The company plans to hire 40 to 50 employees, from nurses to secretaries.
Afzal emphasized the credibility of the company's doctors. All of them are board-certified critical-care physicians from Pulmonary Medicine Associates, a 30-year-old Sacramento business that provides tele-ICU services for 11 Sutter Health hospitals in Northern California.
In order to keep costs down, Performance ICU will rely on existing infrastructure, including Internet connections and electronic patient databases. Chief Operating Officer Jude Sell- Gutowski, who is a registered nurse, estimates the tele-ICU program will cost hospitals $6,000 to $8,000 per bed to implement, which she said is 20 percent below the competition.
"We take the technology that already exists at the hospital and build on it," she said.
Afzal said the technology is not meant to replace local doctors but rather to improve patient care by providing an extra set of eyes.
"A hospital cannot completely rely on this technology. It's just another layer of safety," he said.