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RPA Virtual Hospital marks milestone

District celebrates first 12-months of virtual care.

Woman using a computer with three screens on a standing desk
SydneyConnect Image: ​​​​​​ rpavirtual nurse Joanne Confesor

For Joanne Confesor the past 12-months has been a rollercoaster ride.

“I was one of the first nurses to join the rpavirtual Care Centre. I wanted to be involved in a pioneering service that was being built from scratch,” Joanne, a Nursing Unit Manager, said.

A year ago today, Sydney Local Health District opened rpavirtual – the first virtual hospital in New South Wales. The award-winning service combines the District’s provision of care in the community with the latest digital healthcare strategies.

Patients have 24/7 access to the Care Centre and are contacted via video conferencing to be assessed, monitored and treated as needed.

The Care Centre began with four nurses and 69 patients which included a select number of palliative care patients, adult patients with cystic fibrosis and patients at risk of recurring lower leg wounds.

Within four weeks of its launch, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the team rapidly developed a model of virtual care to support the District’s COVID-19 response.

Sydney was the first Local Health District in New South Wales to provide virtual care for COVID-19 positive patients in self-isolation at home, in collaboration with RPA’s respiratory, infectious diseases, emergency medicine and public health specialists.

“We were in unchartered territory. We were learning on the go and adapting to changing circumstances. It made me embrace change, because change was constant,” Joanne said.

The model of care has been continually refined as more has become known about COVID-19 with high risk COVID-19 patients receiving wearable devices – a wireless pulse oximeter and a temperature patch – for remote monitoring of their vital signs.

The Care Centre has also expanded to provide care for returning travellers who test negative to COVID-19 but are in quarantine in Special Health Accommodation.

Some have complex health issues which has led to the introduction of virtual antenatal, paediatric, aged care, drug and alcohol and mental health services.

Within four months, rpavirtual reached the 1000 virtual patient milestone.

Now, care has been provided to more than 7,000 patients across 10 cohorts and a team of over 55 clinicians, including nurses, medical officers, psychologists, social workers, midwives, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists, is on board.

rpavirtual has actively managed the largest volume of COVID-19 patients in any single health service in New South Wales.

Patient feedback has been positive with 89 per cent of patients reporting they felt confident at home knowing their condition was monitored daily.

While 79 per cent said the technologies used by rpavirtual improved their access to care and treatment.

rpavirtual won a NSW Premier’s Award in the category of Excellence in Digital Innovation last year as well as the Transforming Patient Experience category and the Chair of the Board's Award for Excellence at the District’s 2020 AGM.

“Since rpavirtual began clinical operations in February last year it has redefined the way acute care is delivered, combining community care with the latest digital solutions,” Dr Teresa Anderson, the District’s Chief Executive, said.

“I’m proud of rpavirtual’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to thank the leadership team and all staff for their professionalism and dedication to caring for our patients and their families during this challenging time,” Dr Anderson said.

While the Care Centre continues to play a significant role during the pandemic, a range of other initiatives have been introduced including a virtual fracture clinic and medication monitoring.

There are also plans to introduce other models of care including an e-ICU to provide intensivist support and health data monitoring as required and remote monitoring of surgical patients after discharge from hospital.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride. There have been lots of twists and turns but I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in our first year. rpavirtual is the vision for healthcare of the future,” Joanne said.