Virtual care makes sci-fi hospitals a reality

 

Many more patients, including stroke survivors and the terminally ill, will be treated from home as part of a groundbreaking expansion of virtual medical care.

Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals will ­increasingly use video calls and electronic monitoring devices to treat ailments ranging from minor fractures to complex wounds and post-operative recovery.

RPA patient Cam Witt is assessed as registrars and junior medical officers watch on remotely. Picture: Toby Zerna
RPA patient Cam Witt is assessed as registrars and junior medical officers watch on remotely. Picture: Toby Zerna

The technology is already being used in a nondescript room at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where 65 medicos behind screens monitor COVID-19 patients.

The RPA Virtual Hospital - the first of its kind in Australia - has so far remotely cared for 3000 COVID-19 patients in hospital hotels and a further 1400 isolated in their own homes.

COVID-19 patients wear pulse oximeters on their fingers to track their oxygen saturation levels, and a patch under the armpits to track body temperature, which is monitored around-the-clock at a control centre in ­Camperdown.

Virtual health care has ­relieved pressure on the state's hospitals, which ­remain on war footing with 2000 ICU beds at the ready in case there is an explosion of acute coronavirus cases.

The futuristic medical care has proven so successful throughout the pandemic, its use will become mainstream.

 

Registered nurse Eleanor Gorsoski consults a patient who is at home via a Zoom call. Picture: Toby Zerna
Registered nurse Eleanor Gorsoski consults a patient who is at home via a Zoom call. Picture: Toby Zerna

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said virtual medical care has changed the whole health system at "galactic speed" and would save patients unnecessary travel and waiting.

"Expanding hospital cap­acity to manage patients at home will make a huge difference in patients' lives," Mr Hazzard said.

All 450 palliative care ­patients in the Sydney Local Health District will this year self-report the severity of symptoms through an app on their smart devices, with periodic assessments via video call.

Chronic wound sufferers will photograph their skin, which will be analysed by artificial intelligence to determine whether the wound is healing as ­expected or requires ­intervention.

Tuberculosis sufferers who must be supervised taking their medicine will be able to do so on video calls with nurses instead of visiting hospital clinics.

Similarly, immune-suppressed patients will be taught how to self-inject medication under the tutelage of nurses over video calls.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said virtual medical care would save patients unnecessary travel and waiting. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said virtual medical care would save patients unnecessary travel and waiting. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

From March, patients recovering from a stroke will be able to videoconference from the comfort of their own home. Orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists will assess and treat minor bone breaks over video calls rather than patients waiting in outpatient clinics.

"There was a lot of cynicism and reluctance, but once the pandemic came along there was overnight acceptance of what virtual care can do," RPA Virtual Hospital general manager Miranda Shaw said.

"In the past 10 months we have achieved what would have taken three years."

New technology used in hospitals to keep doctors ­socially distanced will also be retained after COVID-19.

Neurologists at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital carry out "virtual ward rounds", where patients wear smart glasses to track eye movement, watched by doctors who speak to them on videoconference.

After the pandemic, neurologists on call after hours will be able to videoconference emergency patients rather than rely on junior doctors to relay symptoms over the phone.

Originally published as Virtual care makes sci-fi hospitals a reality


Coroner finds mine death ‘a tragic accident’

Premium Content Coroner finds mine death ‘a tragic accident’

The 30 year old father died in 2017 when he was fatally struck while removing a...

Bowen man appeals jail term over child sex crimes

Premium Content Bowen man appeals jail term over child sex crimes

He sent ‘d*ck pics’ to two underage teen girls he met on Facebook and had one send...

NAMED: Whitsunday residents in court for drug possession

Premium Content NAMED: Whitsunday residents in court for drug possession

An arrest for public nuisance leads to a cocaine discovery and a search warrant...