After quantum leaping in popularity during COVID-19, telehealth has since evolved into a disruptive healthcare medium, set to deliver benefits long after the pandemic and well beyond its original functionality.
Initially gaining traction as an alternative to in-person GP visits, telehealth has since been extended to a range of other use cases and is giving rise to some innovative models of healthcare.
The Northern Hospital in Victoria has been pioneering its use in emergency care since October 2020 and now offers a range of specialised services on the back of video consultations.
Paediatric Emergency Physician, Dr Loren Sher, leads the hospital’s ‘Virtual ED’ and says tele- and virtual-health has allowed the organisation to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered.
Enabling new collaborations
“One really great thing about telehealth is it allows us to collaborate with teams and specialists that previously weren’t connected to emergency departments – at least not directly,” said Dr Sher ahead of the National Telehealth Conference.
“Previously if someone needed a geriatrician, we’d have done a formal referral; and that person, after their initial treatment in the ED, would have continued their care elsewhere.
“Now, thanks to telehealth – and the partnerships it has allowed us to create – we can have direct involvement from geriatricians and other specialists. Patients presenting virtually to the ED can receive the specialised care they need upfront.”
Non-specialised treatments, for ailments such as skin infections, can also be accessed via the model.
“Patients in the community can be assessed via video, given an electronic prescription, and have their reviews done virtually. If the condition is escalating, we will contact Hospital at Home who will visit them in their place of residence and continue their care there.”
Better support for aged- and palliative care users
In a telehealth-enabled partnership with Ambulance Victoria, aged care users can now also benefit from in-facility assessments, upfront medications, and instant referrals to onsite teams.
“Here, telehealth has connected three teams that previously weren’t working together. It’s also helped increase the scope of practice of our partner organisations. Under our guidance, paramedics can now administer additional treatments – like intravenous antibiotics – they previously could not.
“All of this is great for aged care users, as it gives them immediate access to treatment in the comfort of their facility. They don’t have to sit for hours on a hard trolley in an ED while they wait to be seen.”
Palliative care patients and their families can now also be managed remotely. Via video consultations, the hospital now talks with families to assess patients, understand their prognosis and discuss the best outcome.
“Telehealth has helped us connect the dots and realise synergies we previously didn’t think existed. Things we never thought we could deliver virtually are suddenly becoming an innate part of the model,” Dr Sher said.
As well as breaking down siloes across healthcare, telehealth has allowed the hospital to break down geographical borders and provide care more equitably to rural, regional and remote communities.
“Thanks to telehealth, distance is no longer such a barrier. Some people simply couldn’t access certain types of specialists before, as there wasn’t one based in the area. Now, they can easily.”
The technology has also helped overcome language barriers. Patients logging onto a device for their virtual consultation can register in multiple languages and request an interpreter.
“This helps their consultation go more smoothly and improves health outcomes,” Dr Sher said.
Dr Sher and team are still exploring the model’s potential and are excited about near- and long-term possibilities.
She believes the development of at-home devices will accelerate the rise of virtual health and open up more opportunities for expanding the model.
“We already had great success with home devices like oxygen saturation monitors. These were readily distributed during COVID to help people manage their symptoms at home. Around the corner, the maturation of cardiac monitoring will also be hugely beneficial.
“The idea is to bring as many aspects of ED care in the virtual realm as possible. With our growing, ageing population, EDs of the future will never be big enough – so we need to look to alternative ways of making our resources stretch further. So far, telehealth has been pivotal in this quest.”
Dr Loren Sher is an Emergency specialist and Director of the new Victorian Virtual ED. Previously, she was the Director of the Northern Hospital’s Paediatric Emergency Department. Her career highlights include the development of a Paediatric HIV clinic in South Africa and the development of the Paediatric Emergency department at The Northern hospital.
Hear more from Dr Sher at the National Telehealth Conference – one of three conferences to take place at Connect Virtual Care.
One pass for Connect Virtual Care gives delegates access to the National Telehealth Conference, the Healthcare Cyber Security Conference, and the Medication Safety & Efficiency Conference.
This year’s event will be held 27-28 April at the Hilton Sydney.
Learn more and register your place here.