Virtual ward supports hospice at home patients in Kent

Categories: Care.

Patients who opt-in to the scheme have a laptop computer installed in their home. When the patient requests a video consultation using the simple touchscreen interface, a nurse is notified using the call button system used in the hospice wards. When the call is answered, a clear video call is established and a face-to-face consultation is made possible without the patient ever having to come into the hospice.

“There are so many clinical clues and judgement tied up in the visual image which this system releases,” said Bruce Pollington, the hospice’s medical director, who devised and implemented the system, “…particularly the ability to get a face-to-face contact with experienced nursing staff any time.”

Patients who have been part of the virtual ward, such as Susan Young, have spoken very highly of it. Susan said: “This isn’t a replacement for face-to-face care, it’s an addition. It’s very reassuring to speak to a doctor or nurse face-to-face, rather than on the telephone.”

Recently, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited the Heart of Kent Hospice to see the virtual ward in action. He remarked: “Many people with a long-term condition will want to stay at home for as long as possible. The technology I saw in action at the Heart of Kent Hospice is making that a reality for many patients by allowing them to get vital medical support in their own homes.”

Technological challenges

Providing stable internet connectivity and user-friendly systems has traditionally been a barrier to widespread use of video call technology. However, Dr Pollington believes the hospice has overcome these challenges with the innovative use of consumer products whose cost is “not prohibitive”. 

For example, homes without internet connectivity are provided with a MiFi portable hotspot to achieve a fast and clear signal that delivers high quality video and sound calling. The computers being used are standard netbooks using touchscreens and customised software, making it very simple for patients to make a call, and allowing nurses to administrate the calls.

Future of telehealth for hospices

The Heart of Kent Hospice plans to develop the virtual ward system even further. One plan is to use the system to include patients in multidisciplinary meetings. Another use will be to enable nurses to check in on patients whilst they are home, in a similar way to how nurses check in on patients periodically whilst on the ward.

Dr Pollington highly recommends the system be used by other hospices and caring organisations, saying that “the social impact of this technology is potentially enormous”. The video calling system, developed by telecommunications company IOCOM, is customised for the needs of Heart of Kent Hospice, but could also be adapted to be used by other hospices.

For more information about the virtual ward system, please contact the Heart of Kent Hospice.

Other clinical services around the world are also implementing innovative telemedicine services. For example, we previously reported on the Telehealth Hub being used by Manorlands Hospice, and the Australian edition of ehospice has reported on the innovative telehealth service Skype2Doctor.

The Heart of Kent project received funding from the Rank Foundation via a Help the Hospices grant programme.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *