Virtual hospital claims a ‘first’ in national recognition

By Siobhan Calafiore

29 May 2023

A virtual hospital delivering acute care to patients has become one of the first standalone healthcare services of its kind to receive national accreditation.

The Calvary-Medibank Joint Venture delivers SA Health’s My Home Hospital program, which provides virtual and face-to-face hospital-level care to patients within the comfort of their own home or at their residential aged care facility.

Since its launch in January 2021, the program has provided care to more than 7200 patients across metropolitan Adelaide and a number of regional areas, and in turn has helped free up hospital beds and eased pressure on the state’s EDs.

Calvary-Medibank Joint Venture Executive Medical Director Dr Emily Kirkpatrick said official notification of the virtual hospital program being accredited to the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards came through in early May.

“We are proud to be accredited as a standalone virtual hospital delivering acute care, which is quite unique in itself,” she told the limbic.

The program accepts referrals for a range of clinical conditions that would otherwise require a hospital admission.

These include:

  • Heart failure
  • Exacerbation of respiratory conditions
  • DVT
  • PE
  • Infections requiring IV antibiotics including cellulitis, pneumonia and mastitis
  • Post-operative care

The average length of virtual hospital stay is 4.7 days.

“We currently have 90 virtual beds in our service. We essentially operate a small hospital footprint, which supports diverting patients directly from GP services and the ambulance service to avoid an ED presentation,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“It is all about freeing up capacity in the system.

“By growing virtual services we better support patients receiving care in the home but also enable patients who do require that brick and mortar facility care and escalation of care with ICU support to access a bed within a physical hospital.”

Patients can be referred into the virtual hospital via four pathways: their GP, paramedics, ED clinicians or as an inpatient at one of the state’s public hospitals.

Each patient admitted into the program receives a preprogrammed tablet that will connect them to their medical team, along with a blood pressure monitoring kit including an oxygen saturation probe and temperature probe to check vital signs.

There is a physical virtual care centre but health practitioners – such as doctors, nurses and allied health workers – are also based in metro and regional areas.

Virtual medical ward rounds occur daily, while patients receive in-home visits at least once a day and as often as required.

Blood tests, arterial blood gas tests and mobile X-ray are also available.

Any patient who requires additional support is admitted into a public hospital.

“Looking at the March and April data, we’ve had 100% consumer satisfaction, which is just really unheard of in a health care facility,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“The feedback that we’ve had from patients is phenomenal.

“They love being able to receive care in their home. They recover quicker by being in that familiar environment and it also provides that additional option, particularly if they’re a carer or they have young children, that enables them to still be connected with their family and social life while receiving hospital-level care.”

She said the virtual hospital’s overall hospital-acquired complication rate was less than 0.5%, driven partly by the reduced exposure to other infections and viruses.

The service is available at no cost to public patients as long as they are eligible for Medicare, are aged 13 years or older and do not require continuous observation.

“Something very unique about this model in South Australia is the fact that it has proven to reduce the impact on the acute system,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“So this is a model that we truly believe is the future of healthcare.

“And we see that there is absolutely demand for this in other jurisdictions.”

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