Waikato DHB has launched a new service allowing patients talk to their hospital doctor over their smart phone from home rather than having to travel to an outpatient appointment.
The Virtual DHB, powered by HealthTap and connected by Spark, provides health information available on an app approved by doctors, allowing patients to check symptoms and receive advice via smartphones, tablets or PCs.
Following the rollout, the DHB is gradually signing up doctors from all its services across its five hospital sites, and is talking to GPs and other community organisations about potential patient opportunities.
“We already have clinicians from dermatology on board, cardiology and renal are next and we will working with all our other services to implement this initiative where appropriate, this year,” says Dr Nigel Murray, CEO, Waikato DHB.
“If your doctor is registered on the system and they deem it appropriate for your particular treatment, it means you can choose to have a video conference call or text chat with the doctor via the app from your home or work rather than travelling to hospital.”
For Spark Digital CEO Tim Miles, there is "enormous opportunity" for technology to play a useful role in delivering expert healthcare to more New Zealanders.
"Spark are really proud to be unleashing this world leading healthcare innovation, supporting people across the Waikato,” he adds.
“With the very strong regional presence of Spark’s fast 4G mobile services and our peerless wireless broadband becoming commonplace, we’re confident that the Virtual DHB will deliver a really impressive, personalised experience for people ready to give it a go.”
In addition, the Virtual DHB is powered by global mobile technology company HealthTap, which has over 100,000 doctors around the world signed on to the operating system.
“This is an exciting time for New Zealand and healthcare all over the world,” adds Ron Gutman, founder and CEO, HealthTap.
“We have worked with hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of doctors to create a world class query to cure experience for managing health and well being from any mobile device or personal computer.
“We are fully committed to giving our customers the highest standards of quality, reliability, security and a best-in-breed user experience.”
Going forward, Dr Murray says patients will also be able to use the app to book an appointment with their specialist, share a medical photo with them, send a direct message to their doctor like a text, and view their health record on the app.
A multidisciplinary team of professionals who are caring for the patient will all have access to the shared care plan and can discuss the patient’s care with each other.
Consequently, patients can access health information, tips and the latest research to help them manage their own health effectively.
Using the app, people can ask a question and receive an answer from a database of millions of responses all approved by doctors registered on the system.
“Over 60 percent of people in the Waikato DHB district live in rural locations and all too often patients are travelling long distances for a short consultation,” Dr Murray adds.
“Offering patients the option of a virtual visit via video or text will help to give everyone access to our services no matter who they are or where they live.
“We want to put patients in control of their healthcare and give them a greater say in their own care, how it’s organised and when and where it’s delivered.
“Today most people expect to be able to do their banking and shopping online, using smart phones and tablets, and people are already using Google to look for health information.
“Patients want services delivered in different ways, and we want to treat them like customers and provide them with services that are convenient and health information they can trust.”
Dr Murray says residents can sign up to the New Zealand service from June 1 by taking photo ID along to the enquiry desk at Waikato Hospital or to the DHB’s other hospitals at Thames, Te Kuiti, Tokoroa or Taumarunui.
To be eligible, people need to be over the age of 18 and be covered by the Waikato District Health Board services.
“Obviously patient safety and security is really important to us, so initially we are going to have to see people’s photo ID in person at one of our hospitals,” he adds.
“But we are working on setting up a secure online sign up process that will be more convenient for people in the near future.”
Waikato DHB has been at the forefront of innovation in virtual health and has already been using telehealth to connect patients to doctors virtually.
“Telehealth has enabled doctors and allied health professionals from Waikato Hospital to carry out outpatient clinics and inpatient rounds with many patients in other hospitals over a video link,” adds Dr Ruth Large, Clinical Director of Virtual Care, Waikato DHB.
“But with the Virtual DHB, once patients are discharged from hospital many won’t have to come back for their follow up appointment, they can talk to their specialist or other health provider from wherever they are.
“In some cases an examination will still be required, but if it isn’t then an appointment from home may be offered.
“This is ideal for people who live far from hospital, don’t have transport or have to stay home to care for children or the elderly.
“With this initiative clinicians can make home visits without physically travelling anywhere and reduce the number of outpatient visits to the hospital. It’s making health more accessible for everyone.
“We can also supply some home monitoring equipment which can link via bluetooth, like blood pressure cuffs, weighing scales and a pulse oximeter, and the data can be fed back to medical staff remotely.”
Dr Large says the DHB was also working with US universities, tertiary institutions including University of Waikato and Wintec and the National Institute for Health Innovation, to conduct research during the trial, focusing on how patients and clinicians use the service, changes in patient’s health, and how to drive lifestyle change.
As such, there will be a two year evaluation of the service to help guide the DHB in its ongoing implementation of virtual health.