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Virtual support reshaping rural healthcare

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A new project is evaluating how virtual support services provided remotely are impacting patient care at rural and regional hospitals across Western NSW.

The project is being coordinated by the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre along with the University of Sydney.

The Western NSW Local Health District introduced a “vCare Virtual Support” model in 2019 to provide an additional safety net for patients at 35 small rural hospitals. This allowed remote clinicians to virtually monitor patients and guide care for those whose conditions were deteriorating.

Before this virtual support, rural clinicians had to refer patients themselves to vCare when higher levels of care were needed. However, this could lead to delays in getting patients transferred or treated properly.

“Delayed or failure to recognise and timely response to clinical deterioration as per the “Between the Flags” system and delayed referrals to vCare for transfer to a higher level of care of critically ill patients were key reasons for introducing vCare Virtual Support service,” said Amanda Hunter, General Manager of vCare at WNSWLHD.

The new project will look at how well this virtual care model works from the perspectives of patients, families, clinicians, and in terms of patient outcomes. It will also analyse the cost and sustainability of providing this remote support compared to traditional care models.

“This research will help us to understand both patient and clinician experiences of this new model of care and how virtual care programs, such as this one, can contribute to a more equitable and sustainable healthcare system, potentially, enhancing statewide rapid response systems, and ultimately advancing the quality of care delivered in rural and remote settings,” said Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre CEO Annette Schmiede.

The virtual support service aims to overcome the “tyranny of distance” in the sprawling Western NSW region by incorporating advanced remote monitoring technology and clinical decision support for remote clinicians.

This article was also published on the Healthcare Channel.

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.

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