Collaboration revolutionises healthcare delivery in aged care

By Jane Allman
Tuesday, 10 August, 2021

Collaboration revolutionises healthcare delivery in aged care

When it comes to healthcare delivery and patient outcomes, aged care is viewed as a tough nut to crack. The aged-care workforce is overworked, underpaid and overwhelmed, with a constant, and often shifting, mountain of procedures to perform. As identified by the Royal Commission into the Safety and Quality of Aged Care, the industry needs resources — people, funding and innovative technologies — to make the care of Australia’s ageing population not only adequate, but something that could be described as world class.

Part of the solution, as identified by the Commission, is the adoption of technologies that will improve standards of care for residents and make life easier for aged-care staff. We have witnessed the increased uptake of telehealth alongside the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic as a critical infection control measure and as a more convenient way for aged-care residents to be assessed and treated for a range of conditions. Telehealth had been used to deliver health care to regional and remote communities for many years, but in more populous regions, it can sometimes be viewed as a back-up option when face-to-face care is unavailable or becomes more risky. But exciting developments in telehealth are set to turn this form of care delivery into a first-choice option for many Australians and their healthcare providers.

Innovation through collaboration

A collaboration between telehealth provider Coviu, medical device innovator VisionFlex and The University of Sydney is aiming to give aged-care providers the tools they need to optimise healthcare delivery and outcomes in aged care.

Recognised among the winners of the NSW Government’s Innovation District Challenge, the collaboration integrates VisionFlex’s digital examination toolkit into the Coviu platform, enabling health practitioners to carry out detailed, digitised medical examinations to provide enhanced care to one of our most vulnerable populations.

Visionflex’s telehealth devices capture high-quality images, video and patient vitals data to improve diagnostic accuracy and enable earlier intervention, leading to better health outcomes. The examination toolkit includes devices such as a blood glucose reader, digital stethoscope, high-definition camera, otoscope, pulse oximeter, electrocardiogram and ultrasound devices, laryngoscope and thermometer. These devices connect to the ProEX Telehealth Hub via Bluetooth or USB connection, enabling health practitioners to carry out detailed medical examinations. Working from Coviu’s telehealth platform, the tools allow a GP or specialist to see down a patient’s throat or ear canal, examine a wound or determine blood oxygen levels; even perform an ultrasound scan.

“Telehealth has an important role to play in the aged-care sector because it can provide timely health care from a distance, removing the need for patients to travel to appointments,” Coviu Clinical Research Lead Dr Annie Banbury explained.

“This collaboration of three unique organisations combines the Coviu telehealth platform, built specifically for the healthcare industry; Visionflex’s cutting-edge peripheral devices; and the University of Sydney’s research capabilities to analyse the data produced and assess the impact on patient outcomes.”

With the telehealth solution currently in the engineering phase of development, Dr Banbury highlighted that the first step to bringing aged-care providers on board was to see uptake of telehealth in its simplest form.

“Aged-care facility managers are busy and often lack the time needed to plan and integrate new systems, but once implemented, systems such as ours will have enormous and beneficial impacts on aged-care staff, their patients, as well as healthcare professionals external to the aged-care facility, so it’s worth the investment,” Dr Banbury said.

Dr Banbury highlighted the importance of telehealth as a critical infection control tool, citing the ~700 deaths in aged care attributed to COVID-19.

“The highest risk to our vulnerable aged-care residents comes from the people entering the facility, so if we can mitigate this risk via telehealth, then we are working to prevent virus from spreading,” she explained.

Cutting-edge technology supercharges consults

VisionFlex’s Alex Hollings explained that the ProEX Telehealth Hub was originally designed for rural or remote health care in The Kimberley, providing a toolkit of examination devices to facilitate a clinical telehealth consultation.

“The integration of data — captured by the examination tools — with our patient management software allows system operators to create a digital patient file that maintains a comprehensive record of the care a patient receives. Images can be captured with the devices and stored in the patient’s file; a Bluetooth thermometer takes a reading and is instantly logged; an ECG recording can be stored on file, too. The innovations are exciting and there’s scope in the future to integrate capabilities such as AI and machine learning,” Hollings said.

Aged-care residents benefit by receiving continued care from their regular GP; aged-care providers and staff are able to call for assistance, receive faster support and potentially reduce the need for patient transfer and hospital visits.

Contributing to the evidence base

Associate Professor Georgina Luscombe from The University of Sydney explained that the collaboration will contribute to the evidence base for clinical practice underpinned by real-world evaluation.

“As technology is deployed within aged care we need to evaluate its use. Robust evaluation will inform how technology can provide optimal care for one of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

“Winning this award [the Innovation District Challenge] has enabled the development of an innovation collaborative focused on improving the best quality care via telehealth for aged-care organisations. We would like to thank the support of the NSW Treasury for the grant.”

Images courtesy of Visionflex.

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