Hospice Waikato turns to virtual care to reach remote communities

Hospice Waikato turns to virtual care to reach remote communities

Hospice Waikato chief executive Craig Tamblyn says video conferencing technology will complement the organisation's existing services. Hospice Waikato is turning to video conferencing to provide care to patients in remote areas.

The organisation has been trialling the technology in the Thames-Coromandel area, with a view of launching the new service early next year.

Hospice Waikato chief executive Craig Tamblyn said the initiative, dubbed Virtual Health, is designed to meet the growing demand for palliative care services. About 20 per cent of Hospice Waikato's patients live in the Thames-Coromandel area. The area is also experiencing growth in demand for Hospice's services. "The message we want to get across is this is about enhancing our current services," Tamblyn said.

"This is not about replacing face-to-face consultations because that will still happen, this is about allowing patients to have more of a choice about where they see a practitioner. “We want to enhance our services in the outer reaches because at the moment access for some our services are limited, or challenging, due to the geographical distance." By using video conferencing, a doctor can remotely link up with a patient or another health professional. Hospice Waikato has also partnered with the Waikato District Health Board to trial the board's new app HealthTap.

HealthTap can be downloaded on to any smart phone and allows patients to connect with heath professionals remotely, ask questions, and get health advice. Hospice Waikato's Virtual Health initiative flows out of a wider programme named Hospice Anywhere.

Hospice Anywhere project manager Sharon Hardaker said initiatives such as Virtual Health would allow the organisation to make the best use of its limited resources."With an aging population there's going to be more and more demand on Hospice and palliative care services. We can't simply employ more and more healthcare professionals, putting them in cars, and have them travel around patients' homes and rest care facilities," Hardaker said.

"There isn't a lot of palliative care specialists so we have to make the best use of the ones coming through. Allowing doctors to connect virtually with patients is much more productive and a better use of our resources because the doctor isn't having to spend three hours travelling in a car to see a patient."

Hardaker said they were currently getting nurses familiar with video conferencing technology and testing it in a range of scenarios. "One of the advantages of doing a virtual clinic or virtual consult is the health professional can see the patient, not just hear them on the phone, and body language is very important," she said. Tamblyn sad the Virtual Health service could also be used to provide grief counselling to families.

"Initially people will be able to go into a clinic and link up with a doctor but in the future we envisage this sort of technology being used to allow people to link up at home," he said. Hospice Waikato is working with tele-communications company Spark to identify poor internet reception areas in the Thames-Coromandel area. The intention is to roll out Virtual Health across the entire region in the future, Tamblyn said.

- Stuff