The rheumatology team at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) has won a national award for its work pioneering virtual video appointments for patients, which are now in use at the Trust more than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The team’s video appointment work has won the Best Practice Award from the British Society for Rheumatology in partnership with charity Versus Arthritis; these celebrate innovative projects that make a difference to the lives of rheumatology patients.
Initially the project was started last year by the rheumatology team to help reduce travel time and improve the convenience for arthritis patients in contacting the rheumatology team for follow up appointments. The video appointments allow patients to be at home and use their own computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone to hold secure and confidential appointments with the NDDH team.
The implementation of this technology across other services at NDDH was accelerated to enable patients to adhere to the government guidance of staying at home, whilst accessing the same level of care and support from their hospital teams. There are now 30 NDDH services using video conferencing where it is appropriate instead of a face-to-face outpatient or follow up appointment.
Dr Stuart Kyle, rheumatology consultant, led the project and says: “When we started this project, we wanted to introduce a virtual appointment option to reduce travel time and costs for our patients. As the most remote acute hospital in England, significant travelling distances meant that a 15-minute appointment sometimes required a patient to have half a day away from work. Reducing the need to travel makes a huge difference to our patients.
“Looking at where we are now, we feel incredibly grateful to have started work on this when we did. During the COVID-19 pandemic we’re reducing face-to-face contact as much as possible, and our team have been able to use this technology to continue to see some patients.
“The award win is a wonderful added bonus to a piece of work we are very proud of. It’s great that our small rheumatology department has been recognised nationally for doing something innovative that has patients’ best interests at heart.”
Patients can connect to the video appointment software using an app or internet browser on their own PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, and there is a virtual waiting room where the clinician can communicate with the patient. During the appointment, blood test results, scans or other images can also be shared securely.
Feedback from patients has been very positive. The team surveyed those who took part in the initial pilot project, and more than 90% said they would like to see their clinician via video consultation in the future.
One of Dr Stuart Kyle’s patients, Ellie, took part in the pilot project last year. Ellie said: “It was so easy and convenient. I logged in and the information I was provided with was so easy to follow. It worked perfectly, everything was really clear. Thank you!”
Dr Kyle added: “Longer term, this will allow us to alternate between physical appointments and virtual. It’s not a substitute for face-to-face hands-on examination, but when that’s not needed we can offer this option to our patients.”
On the team’s award win, Suzanne Tracey, chief executive of NDHT, said
“I’m really proud of everyone who worked on the project. In an extraordinarily short space of time we have introduced a modern, convenient and reliable means of caring for our patients, some of whom are being shielded or who are sticking to the government guidance to stay at home.
“The rheumatology team’s successful trial meant that it was so much easier to roll this out to other teams across the Trust. Nevertheless it has still required a huge effort from our staff to get 30 of our teams up and running with video appointments, and I’d like to say thank you for your hard work.”
Some of the other teams using video appointments include maternity, which is using it as a video helpline for new mums. The software is also helping clinicians work together across the South West. For example, video consultations are being used by the Trust’s paediatric team for clinical discussions with specialists from Bristol and Exeter.
So far in April, 30 teams within the Trust have held over 400 video appointments, totalling more than 100 hours. This is expected to increase significantly as over 20 more teams are being set up to hold video appointments over the next couple of weeks.
Ali Rivett, Chief Executive of the British Society for Rheumatology, said: “Given the current COVID-19 pandemic this is a very timely innovation. This is an exciting, emerging project which provides a great example of how a service has adapted to meet the needs of its local population. The feedback from patients has been very positive and there is considerable potential to implement this initiative more widely.”