Advanced ICU Care: A prescription for strapped hospitals
FORTUNE — Mary Jo Gorman is a medical doctor in St. Louis, but she would fit right in at a software startup in Silicon Valley. Gorman, 53, has successfully launched three companies; her latest venture, Advanced ICU Care, uses technology to remotely diagnose and monitor patients in intensive care units around the country — a groundbreaking service that is changing the way hospitals treat their most critically ill patients.
Gorman got her start in business in 1989, founding Critical Services, a St. Louis group of intensivists, physicians who deal with cases in the ICU. She saw firsthand the problems many ICUs face: An aging population is filling up the beds, but a shortage of specialists (who tend to gravitate to academic medical centers) makes it hard for hospitals to provide top-notch care.
Gorman figured technology could help middle-market hospitals supplement their ICU staffs. So-called telemedicine was already commonplace in radiology and the remote treatment of stroke patients — why not apply it to critical care? In 2004, Gorman launched Advanced ICU, the nation’s first “tele-ICU” company, offering around-the-clock monitoring by intensivists based in St. Louis. More than 30 physicians, lured by a job with defined hours in a desirable metro area, work in a state-of-the-art monitoring center, keeping tabs on patients at “client” hospitals with special software that watches patients’ vital signs, tracks lab results, and analyzes changes.
The company quickly gained a following among community hospitals such as High Point Regional Health System in High Point, N.C., a midsize city approximately 20 miles southwest of Greensboro. Before the health group hired Advanced ICU, it had been necessary to bring in temporary doctors from out of town to staff its ICU — at great expense. Greg Taylor, chief operating officer of the High Point system and a physician, estimates that Advanced ICU has saved him a sum totaling “in the $3 million to $4 million range” since High Point started using the service. (Advanced ICU charges hospitals a per patient fee.) The remote docs also provide him with peace of mind. “They’re seeing early warning signs electronically that have saved dozens of patients’ lives,” he says.
Even medical centers with access to local ICU specialists can benefit from Advanced ICU, Gorman says. Insurance companies are moving to reduce reimbursements for intensive care, putting pressure on hospitals to cut spending. She estimates that her company can save hospitals $2,000 to $3,000 per ICU patient. (She declines to disclose financial information about Advanced ICU except to say that annual revenue is up 55% from 2006, its first full year of operation.)
The eldest daughter of a nurse and a civil engineer, Gorman has a foot in two worlds: She has the rational bedside manner of a physician (she graduated from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in 1984 and practiced for more than 20 years) and the nerviness of an entrepreneur. “This is a project I started and want to see to its fruition,” says Gorman, who is CEO of Advanced ICU. “As long as my board will have me, I will keep running the company.” And if things change? Well, she could probably find a home in Silicon Valley.