Healthcare turns to remote video conferencing to tackle pandemic
Across the healthcare sector, video can play a vital role during the coronavirus outbreak, says Dr Ian Jackson. Here, he offers his tips for Trusts and GP practices considering using video conferencing to help tackle the pandemic.
In Primary Care, large numbers of clinical staff are being recruited back from retirement, who will be from an older age group, putting many of them in the ‘at-risk’ group for COVID-19. There will also be others currently working who have risk factors and would otherwise be required to self-isolate. Primary Care is trying to reduce the footfall to surgeries and so are using telephone and video consulting to manage as many patients as possible, remotely.
The use of both telephone and video consulting allows clinical staff to help their colleagues while maintaining their own safety – either by consulting from home or from appropriate office space. These methods are for both patients who might have COVID-19 and those who have normal clinical issues seen by GPs.
Secondary Care has postponed many elective clinics and is also trying to reduce footfall into hospitals. There are patients who can be managed and supported at home and teleconsultation adds to hospitals’ ability to manage these. Similar to Primary Care, there are clinical staff who are high risk and so the use of them to support people remotely enables their skills to be utilised safely.
Trusts keep their fingers on the pulse
There is an assumption from all healthcare organisations that they now need to move to the provision of teleconsultation for the reasons explained above. A number of GP practices and Trusts in England have been trialling video consultation platforms in recent years; and in the coming months, it is likely that millions of patients will have face-to-face appointments with their GP replaced by telephone or video consultations under NHS plans to respond to the threat posed by the coronavirus.
We have worked with a number of NHS trusts for some time now, who have been piloting our platform. It gives patients fast access to medical support at a time, and in a place that suits them. Video calls give clinicians time with people in need of their help and creates a new channel of communication between the doctor and patient, but what it also provides is much-needed protection.
Since Refero announced free usage of our teleconsultation platform to public sector bodies to support the UK response to COVID-19, we’ve seen an unprecedented demand – we’ve issued over 1,000 new licences and more than 200 GP surgeries have been in contact.
The tech is out there
There are a rich variety of systems available. Our own system, Refero Software, uses Cisco technology to provide a very cost-effective solution.
Our video and telephone consultation technology is an NHS approved, more secure, more reliable Skype alternative. GPs use it to talk to patients, other care professionals, and each other. We also provide a messaging function that can be used between patients, clinicians and practices – a safer alternative to consumer technology like WhatsApp.
We’ve recently added a messaging platform, or webchat function, where patients can contact their practices without emailing or calling. Using the webchat, patients can make a number of enquiries, from booking appointments to checking symptoms.
Tips for Trusts and practices considering using video conferencing
To me there are several key points:
Choose a system that does not require software patches to be downloaded
Choose a system that will work with your current technology – a portal/cloud based
Choose a system that emulates current clinical workflow – so clinicians can see a list of patients for their clinic, and can see who is logged in and waiting to be seen
Importantly, choose a supplier who has commitment and evidence they can integrate into your electronic patient record or patient administration system. You do not want staff having to enter patient data twice on two separate systems to organise a single appointment.
With teleconsultation, a clinician can look at the patient, they can ask to see any rash or look at a wound to assess healing. The clinician cannot physically examine the patient. But, it is important to remember that many consultations do not need an examination.