Three-hundred thousand people have now benefitted from being able to see a healthcare professional digitally, as video consulting becomes the new normal across the country.
At the start of the pandemic, healthcare professionals across NHS Wales and patients of all age groups and backgrounds collectively embraced the safe, secure video conferencing platform, Attend Anywhere; ensuring frontline staff and patients remained protected whilst access to healthcare services remained intact.
Less than two years later, as the 300K milestone becomes a reality, the adoption and wide-spread use of the NHS Wales Video Consulting (VC) Service across primary, secondary and demonstrates that VC has been embedded into many NHS Wales clinical ways of working.
Mike Ogonovsky, Senior Responsible Officer, for TEC Cymru, who led the delivery of the platform with health boards across Wales, as part of Welsh Government’s response to COVID-19 explained:
“The outbreak of Covid-19 posed a number of significant challenges for healthcare providers – not least of which around how they would be able to continue seeing people requiring advice, assistance or ongoing support.
“The use of VC as a digital consultation service required fundamentally changing the way healthcare professionals work and ‘see’ patients across Wales. At the same time we needed to address the perception that digital access would be hampered by disability, age, gender, ethnicity, household income or location.”
Clinical and digital teams worked together to roll out video consulting to services in just a couple of months, transforming how health and care is delivered across Wales.
“Achieving this through the use of simple, yet highly secure technology to over 50 specialties is a true team Wales effort, and we can all be very proud of what we achieved.
“Now that we have all got used to video consulting as one of the ways we deliver or receive health care services, we are rolling out the next steps for technology enabled care in Wales. The views of patients and clinicians is very positive and shows how we all have accepted this new way of doing things - encouraging indeed.”
Rista Erasmus from Cardiff is one of the people in Wales who have benefitted from the use of Attend Anywhere over the past two years.
A former carer, Rista was classed as vulnerable and told to self-isolate. However, she requires ongoing care as a result of chronic condition, cystic fibrosis (CF).
“I normally need to do a six-weekly check-in with the team at Llandough Hospital which would require a 20 minute taxi ride there and one-and-a-half hours by bus home.”
These 30-minute to 1-hour appointments would typically involve blood tests for things like liver function and vitamin levels and also regular X-rays.
If Rista contracted an infection, she would usually require intravenous antibiotic treatment resulting in a few days’ hospital stay for observation. Consequently, Rista was justifiably anxious about what this would mean for her ongoing care during the pandemic – especially as her husband worked away.
“I can spend a significant amount of time going back and forth to Llandough from Llanishen. Travelling by public transport would increase my risk of contracting an infection and this made me very nervous as we do not have family living locally.”
Rista, who is the middle child of three children, said she has learnt to live with the condition.
“I was diagnosed with CF when I was eight months-old, yet I am the only one in my family with the condition. Although it can be hard going when I am feeling unwell, I have learnt to cope with it and the ability to go to my own home, look after our dog and receive the necessary treatment is amazing.”
Rista was able to access the team consisting of the consultant, dietician, physiotherapist and nurse via Attend Anywhere. She is very grateful for the high levels of care she continues to receive.
“My husband works in construction and this means I spend most time with Ruby. She is a great companion and by being able to see the team whilst staying at home, means a great deal to our family.”
The NHS Wales Video Consulting Service is powered by Attend Anywhere; a cloud based platform built specifically for healthcare, allowing secure video calls between clinicians and patients.
The national VC roll-out coincided with several research and evaluation studies undertaken by TEC Cymru, including research around digital inclusion.
“The perceived ‘digital divide’ in Wales needed to be understood as part of potential challenges for the roll-out of VC across the country. However, data from 50,000 patients and clinicians, showed that digital uptake was not affected solely by social group demographics, geographic areas or healthcare conditions.
“In fact, the data showed that the digital service was well accepted by those who use it across all social groups, regardless of health status, disability, age, gender, ethnicity or household income. Uptake of video consulting amongst older age groups was also higher in Wales, as was the usage amongst households with lower incomes.”
Timeline since March 2020:
- The first video consultation on March 16th 2020, two weeks after TEC Cymru were commissioned by the Welsh Government to roll out VC The programme focused on providing the training, support and tools to let local teams decide how best to use the technology to support people across their areas.
- Within 6 months more than 40K video consultations took place across Wales.
- The usage, adoption and benefits of VC across Primary, Secondary and Community care was evaluated from the start and used to inform the roll-out and deployment of the technology during Phase 2 (Secondary care and care homes) and Phase 3 (dentistry, optometry and pharmacy).
- VC was available across over 50 specialties during the pandemic and increased exponentially across secondary care.
- In March 2022 the 300k video consultation milestone was reached.
VC is now embedded as business-as-usual practice for many healthcare professionals and patients in Wales and its usage is being adapted for other care settings such as online group therapies and classes.
The benefits to patients, families, clinicians and society using VC over the past two years are significant.
With between 2.5K and 3K consultations per week (peaking around 5K at the height of the pandemic), VC was used extensively across a number of specialities at any given time.
Evaluation findings, collected between September 2020 and August 2021 alone from amongst 35,498 respondents, including 22,879 patients and 12,619 clinicians show:
- A total of 217,900 travel minutes were saved (two-way) between March 2021 and September 2021 (3632 hours).
- The type of activity most likely to be conducted using VC was first appointments.
- VC was rated positively in terms of quality, with 85.9% of ratings for “Excellent”, “Very Good”, or “Good”.
Overall, face-to-face was prevented for 85% of appointments and nearly all - 90% of patients, would use or consider using VC again in the future.
TEC Cymru continues to collaborate with digital and clinical teams, to explore, drive and share the many excellent examples of how VC can support the delivery of care in Wales.
To find out more about the use of VC within healthcare contact firstname.lastname@example.org.