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.
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.
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.
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