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WBHHS virtual clinics bringing care closer to home

More patients are accessing specialist outpatient appointments from the comfort of their own home, thanks to Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s recent rollout of “virtual clinics”.

During the COVID-19 response, the WBHHS Telehealth team has worked with a variety of service areas such as renal medicine, antenatal and gynecology, child development, rural allied health, sexual health and diabetes education, to bring care to patients in their home with the help of videoconferencing technology.

This has seen some 139 members of WBHHS teams undergo education in telehealth technology and a 32% increase in WBHHS capability to use the virtual clinics since March 2020.

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Board Chair Peta Jamieson said the expansion in telehealth usage was a great example of some key aims in WBHHS’s strategic plan Care Comes First… Through Patients’ Eyes, including innovation and providing more care closer to home.

“Growing our use of telehealth continues to be a priority for WBHHS and the Board, so it’s encouraging to see the significant expansion in its application in recent months,” Ms Jamieson said.

“With the help of an easy-to-use platform that provides a safe and secure appointment with their medical specialist, more patients are now able to access the right care, at the right time, in the right place – including from the comfort of their own home.

“The rollout of these virtual clinics shows how we’ve been agile in providing care to patients during COVID-19, as well as how we continue to support our vision to be a health service that is innovative and that provides modern and flexible models of care.”

As well as providing virtual clinics from WBHHS facilities to local patients, the technology is also being used to connect patients at Wide Bay facilities with specialist clinicians at tertiary hospitals.

WBHHS Chief Executive Debbie Carroll said beyond simply the convenience for patients, staff were reporting that the simplicity of the virtual clinic platform has made the transition to telehealth easier for them and streamlined services in a more efficient way.

“It’s important that the technology is easy to use and is being embraced more widely by patients and clinicians alike,” Ms Carroll said.

“At the end of the day, we’re committed to providing the best possible experience for our patients, whether that’s in our facilities or in their own home.

“COVID-19 might have presented us with some challenges, but it’s also shown us some opportunities – many of which will become our new norm because they’re a better way of doing everyday business.”

When clinically appropriate, the in-person specialist outpatient appointment is replaced by an online platform that provides both virtual waiting rooms and consultation rooms, managed by WBHHS staff through an online dashboard, and ensuring a patient’s confidentiality is maintained throughout the clinic.

Among the new virtual clinics is one set up by the Bundaberg Hospital Renal Unit. Clinical Director of Renal Medicine Dr Clyson Mutatiri said the team there had adapted well to the new technology.

“We have found the virtual clinics to be quite seamless when the patient has the technological capacity and skill set to partake, affording both the patient and the Renal Outpatient Department staff with the inherent convenience that comes with Telehealth,” Dr Mutatiri said.

“I anticipate that once COVID-19 passes, virtual clinics will continue to form an integral part of the outpatient clinics model of care, complementing face-to-face consultations for suitable patients.”

The virtual clinics provide each patient with a secure web link to access the virtual waiting room, where they are ”seated” and then may be greeted by an administrator, before being seen confidentially by one or more clinicians and then returned to the administrator if required.

The first patients to use the technology have praised the experience.

Casper Meerman said it was great to have the flexibility of telehealth during a period of great uncertainty.

“Patients can still have a medical consult and get the appropriate diagnosis. It would also be great for patients in remote Queensland,” Mr Meerman said.

Fellow patient Andrew Wood agreed, adding that the technology, and the directions on how to link up to the clinic, were “easy for any patient to use”.

Last updated: 5 June 2020