Case Study: The University of New England and NSW Health
Virtual hospitals have become strategic for modern healthcare organizations, where patients’ vital signs are monitored remotely using wireless technology. Virtual care enables medical teams to track hundreds of ‘remote patients’ at any given time, resulting in far more efficient use of resources and alleviating the strain on physical hospitals.
Public health expert Professor Rod McClure, Dean of Medicine at University of New England, is the pioneer of virtual hospitals in Australia and was asked by New South Wales Health in Australia to come and set up the country’s first virtual hospital, with the aim of providing remote healthcare for patients with chronic conditions, many of whom live a long way from their nearest hospital.
When Covid-19 struck, the need shifted rapidly from chronic patients to those showing symptoms of coronavirus. With the rapid spread of the virus, the virtual hospital was pressed into action faster than expected.
The University of New England and NSW Health chose the Caretaker® wireless patient monitor from Caretaker Medical Corp. as the wearable technology for its first virtual hospital. Caretaker Medical supplied 365 units, working in partnership with the NSW Pathology and Gold Coast based inTechnology to monitor patients with moderate Covid-19 symptoms in their homes, continuously tracking their vital signs, including heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation, beat-by-beat blood pressure and breathing.
The Caretaker® provides ICU quality monitoring via a non-invasive wearable device worn on the patient’s wrist and a comfortable finger-sensor, enabling uninterrupted continuous monitoring without restricting movement or mobility. Patients find the Caretaker® more comfortable than other wearable monitors and benefit from simple, intuitive operation. This means they are more likely to wear it continuously, thus providing more consistent and reliable data.
The vital signs data collated from the Caretaker devices was transmitted to a team of doctors who, utilized a newly developed analytical engine including artificial intelligence technology, to monitor the status of all remote patients concurrently. Consequently, if the condition of any patient worsened to the point where intervention became necessary, they were brought into the hospital for a higher level of care.
Australia’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was one of the most successful in the world, keeping the spread of the virus in check and minimizing its impact on the economy. The University of New England and NSW health virtual hospital played a significant role in relieving pressure on the state’s hospitals when infections were at their peak, as well as keeping contagious patients isolated while their symptoms were monitored, thus reducing the spread of infection and the risk to other patients and hospital staff. In short, Caretaker® helped to save lives.
The success of this project prompted the roll-out of more virtual hospitals across Australia, with Caretaker Medical poised to provide the wearable monitoring technology required. Once the threat of Covid-19 has abated, Caretaker® wireless monitors will be used as initially intended, to monitor chronic patient health and support Australia’s remote healthcare program.
Virtual hospitals are a solution for addressing what Professor McClure calls “healthcare inequity for rural and regional patients”. Telehealth and remote monitoring, he says, “will take pressure off already overburdened hospital networks, and improve health outcomes and access to healthcare for regional patients”. That was the intention when he went to set up Australia’s first virtual hospital but Covid-19 changed the remit overnight.
What followed was a rapidly mobilized demonstration of the power of remote healthcare and its flexibility to adapt to sudden spikes in demand. We’re proud of the key role that the Caretaker® played in this life-saving program and look forward to supporting the roll-out of further virtual hospitals in Australia and elsewhere around the world.