NSW's virtualKIDS aims to reduce pressure on busy EDs

Tuesday, 18 April, 2023

NSW's virtualKIDS aims to reduce pressure on busy EDs

A new virtual care program designed to help keep children out of emergency departments and provide care closer to home will be introduced across NSW.

Premier Chris Minns announced the virtualKIDS Urgent Care Service will be rolled out statewide, ensuring children and families throughout NSW are able to access the right care, at the right time, and in the right place.

The service uses video conferencing technology to connect families with a clinical nurse to determine the best care pathway and care provider based on each child’s needs, whether this is a trip to an emergency department, a consultation with a virtualKIDS expert paediatrician, or a visit to their local GP or urgent care centre.

The VirtualKIDS Urgent Care Service is currently accessible via HealthDirect for families within three local health districts with specialist paediatric hospitals — South Eastern Sydney, Western Sydney and Hunter New England Local Health Districts — but is being expanded to all of NSW before the end of the year.

“This innovative model of care assesses children before they get to hospital to identify the best healthcare pathway for them, because, in many cases, that is not an emergency department,” Minns said.

“This allows families to access care faster and avoid unnecessary trips to hospital, while also helping to reduce pressure on busy emergency departments in cases where children’s care can be safely and more appropriately managed at home with the support of a clinician or by their general practitioner.”

Minister for Health Ryan Park said the statewide rollout of the urgent care service will build on the success of the virtualKIDS pilot program, established by Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) to care for children virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The virtualKIDS program has been running as a pilot since August 2021 and works really well. The Urgent Care Service has been part of the program since December 2022, with two out of three kids using the service receiving the care they needed without having to go to an emergency department,” Park said.

“This has significant benefits not just for families, who have reduced travel, wait times for care and hospital visits, but also for the frontline healthcare workers in our busy emergency departments.”

Park said the expansion of the service statewide will also see it provide specialist paediatric advice to clinicians in rural and regional hospitals, and to paramedics in non-emergency situations.

Dr Joanne Ging, Director of Clinical Operations at SCHN, said the virtualKIDS Urgent Care Service pilot has been very well received by patients and their families.

“The service has helped transform the care we are able to provide to our children and families by giving them an avenue to access trusted support from nurses or paediatricians or by primary care services from the comfort of their own homes,” Ging said.

To date, NSW Health has invested over $4 million to set up, staff and operate the virtualKIDS Urgent Care Service pilot. The pilot was initiated by NSW Health and led in partnership with HealthDirect, SCHN and Hunter New England Kids Health.

Image credit: iStock.com/fizkes

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