MUSC team is one of nine chosen by U.S. Army to build a prototype for increasing ICU surge capacity during COVID-19

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Emma Vought, Medical University of South Carolina

To prepare for current and future waves of COVID-19, the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center asked teams from across the country to compete to build a telehealth prototype that would provide adequate ICU capacity when cases surge. Of the 78 teams that competed, only nine were invited to complete a series of tasks designed to establish the feasibility of their prototypes. An MUSC team of bioinformatics, telehealth and critical care experts was one of those nine.

Each of the nine teams was awarded up to $1 million dollars and given 15 days to complete the first of five tasks necessary to deploy its prototype. MUSC has just completed Task 1 and submitted it for evaluation. Only those teams whose efforts at completing Task 1 are judged successful will be invited to participate in Task 2. The ultimate goal is to narrow down to three or so teams that will collaborate to roll out these virtual critical care networks nationally.

The MUSC team is led by Leslie Lenert, M.D., MUSC assistant provost for data science and informatics and chief research information officer, and Dee Ford, M.D., director of the MUSC Telehealth Center of Excellence and professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care. “We are a great team in that I can provide the technical foundation, but Dee can offer the practical telehealth experience and critical care expertise to make sure this is more than a science project,” said Lenert. 

Their proposed prototype, known as Portable Remote Operational Wireless Enabled Surge Specialist ICU, or Prowess-ICU, builds on MUSC’s more than 15 years of experience with telehealth, including tele-ICU, and the strong regional partnerships that it has created. Since 2013, MUSC has partnered with Advanced ICU Care to provide remote monitoring of ICUs throughout the state, invaluable experience for the task at hand.

“We were selected to develop a prototype because, as a national leader in telehealth, we have the institutional knowledge, expertise and experience on how to build outreach tools,” explained Ford.

According to Ford, the project management and research infrastructure provided by the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute has also been invaluable. SCTR is one of about 60 Clinical and Translational Science Awards hubs nationwide funded by the National Institutes of Health. Their purpose is to help speed research breakthroughs into the clinic. 

Lenert agrees. “This project would not have been possible without the substantial and highly enthusiastic logistical and organizational support provided by SCTR,” he added.

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