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rpavirtual set to become research powerhouse

District forms virtual care research partnerships.

Man sitting at a desk using a computer speaking virtually to another person
SydneyConnect Image: A rpavirtual consultation

The state's first virtual hospital, rpavirtual, is set to become a research powerhouse, forming flagship partnerships with tertiary institutions and medical and health research centres to assess the effectiveness of virtual care.

rpavirtual combines the latest digital healthcare strategies and technology with the delivery of hospital level care in the community. A 24-hour Virtual Care Centre and the Sydney District Nursing service, first established 121 years ago, are key to its operations.

Launched by Sydney Local Health District in February 2020, rpavirtual rapidly redesigned its services to support the District's COVID-19 response.

To date, about 38, 000 patients have received virtual care from rpavirtual - including more than 7,300 COVID-19 negative patients in Special Health Accommodation (SHA) and more than 13,500 COVID-19 positive patients in SHA or in self-isolation at home.

During the pandemic, rpavirtual also began to build a strong research program of research - with the support of the District's Director of Research Professor Warwick Britton.

"This has really occurred in real-time over the past 22 months as the service has been developed. The commitment to research has been there from the outset with rpavirtual," Professor Britton said.

An rpavirtual research committee - co-chaired by Professor Britton and the District's Chief Executive Dr Teresa Anderson - fosters partnerships with a range of universities, research institutes and investigators at the District.

So far, the committee has assessed more than 40 collaborative research proposals.

"It shows the high degree of interest… in looking at innovative processes. It's important that the cost-benefit of these new models of care is rigorously assessed," Professor Britton said.

Among the projects, rpavirtual is collaborating with the University of Sydney on the Remote Monitoring Technology into Digital Health Infrastructure study, to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of remote patient monitoring in virtual hospitals.

With a grant from the Medical Research Future Fund, researchers will explore rpavirtual's experience with pulse oximetry in COVID-19 patients. The study's results will apply Australia-wide.

It was one of the studies highlighted during a virtual Research and Evaluation Forum that showcased a selection of rpavirtual's research activities.

There are three key areas of interest - research during the pandemic response; prospective research into new models of care; and virtual care as a new approach to clinical trials.

"Research needs to integral to clinical practice. We have to be nimble and flexible at integrating this with all our clinical staff in each of these studies," Professor Britton said.