by Health Call on 25th April 2023What are NHS virtual wards?
Virtual wards, hospital at home, remote monitoring- you may have heard these terms thrown around a lot over the last couple of years, but what do they actually mean?
What is a virtual Ward?
The NHS England definition of a virtual ward is: A virtual ward it is a safe and efficient alternative to NHS bedded care that is enabled by technology. Virtual ward support patients who would otherwise be in hospital to receive the acute care, monitoring and treatment they need in their home. This includes either preventing avoidable admissions into the hospital or supporting early discharge out of the hospital.
Virtual Wards are technology-enabled care which allows suitable patients to be monitored and recover from their homes instead of a hospital ward. Patients are onboarded with MHRA-approved medical devices to measure their vital signs; when thresholds are breached, an alert is automatically triggered to their clinical team.
Patients can receive medication adjustments, consultations with a clinician, and remote advice and care while on a Virtual Ward.
Is a patient on a virtual ward mean they are discharged?
No- virtual wards are not the same as clinical discharge. Virtual Wards allow suitable patients to be discharged from physical hospital wards to continue their recovery at home, but their care and clinical responsibility remain with the hospital until clinical discharge. This enables patients to get home sooner, where they recover best, while releasing beds for patients who need closer care.
Are virtual wards the future of health care?
The pandemic has advanced healthcare more in two years than the previous decade. Due to Covid-19, many services had to switch to online platforms, which highlighted the potential for better patient care and improved outcomes. This has led NHS England to want to continue to build on the growth and digitisation of the NHS in a post covid world.
The NHS now sees virtual ward technology as instrumental in the future of the NHS and its recovery, with its national ambition for 40-50 virtual ward beds per 100,000 of the population.
The expansion of virtual wards has been highlighted in the recent national recovery plan for urgent and emergency care. Virtual wards can relieve the pressure on health and care services. Using virtual wards can shorten the average length of stay in hospitals, reducing pressure on beds and offering a new level of intermediate care. They can also expand how community care is delivered.
How are virtual wards different to Hospital at Home?
Hospital at home is in person care delivered from the patient’s home. Patients are monitored remotely; however, they do receive face-to-face care with home visits from clinicians. Virtual wards are different in the sense that all care can be delivered completely remotely. Health Call’s virtual ward has video conferencing capabilities so patients can have appointments and contact their clinicians if needed without them visiting their homes.
So how do virtual wards work?
Virtual wards mirror traditional hospital wards where patients receive the same level of care, except they are monitored from the place they call home, including care homes.
Patients are set up with remote monitoring devices to record their vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation; readings can be recorded continuously and uploaded in real time or intermittently.
clinical teams see individual patient measurements for the cohort of patients they are responsible for via a dashboard. The technology software ensures they are alerted when any patient moves outside agreed parameters, allowing them to take appropriate action.
Health Call’s virtual ward is suitable for any clinical pathway, and observations can be selected and tailored for specific pathways, wards and patients. The solution is fully customisable and can be adapted to best serve specific services and local populations. Services can select their own device, including Bluetooth devices, patches or wearable technology, observations, threshold, and patient questionnaires to the per-patient level.
Are Virtual Wards only suitable for acute hospital care?
Certainly not- virtual wards can be a great resource for people managing conditions and have been popular in supporting people with conditions like heart failure and COPD. The use of virtual ward technology has enabled people who would have previously had to attend multiple weekly hospital appointments to manage their condition from home- providing peace of mind and freedom.
Equally, virtual wards can be used in elective care, allowing patients recovering from surgery to leave the hospital sooner and continue their recovery at home. This benefits the patient but can also help combat hospital waiting lists.
Can virtual wards be used in primary care?
Absolutely- virtual wards can be used for step-up care from primary care or community care. The virtual wards can be used as a hybrid solution for patients that need closer monitoring but are not at the stage for the hospital admission.
This would also be beneficial for care home residents, where hospital admission can often put them at greater risk.
There is a huge potential for virtual wards to be used by multidisciplinary teams and connect services across primary, secondary and social care to create joined-up working and personalised care for the patient.
What observations can you collect on a virtual ward?
Some virtual ward providers have set observations. However, Health Call’s virtual ward has been designed for full flexibility for clinical teams; it is device agnostic, which means clinicians can choose the devices patients will use to capture observations.
Typically medical devices such as , pulse oximeters, rpm devices, blood pressure monitors are used to monitor patients’ observations.
Core observations for Health Call’s virtual ward include Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Temp Respiratory Rate, Blood oxygen levels and Peak Flow.
What about digital inclusion?
Digital inclusion is an important factor to consider when developing virtual wards. In today’s market, more people can use virtual wards than ever before. But to ensure success in the virtual space, it’s important to consider factors such as access to a reliable internet connection, access to appropriate technology, knowledge of digital literacy and understanding of relevant privacy regulations.
In addition, incorporating strategies that can boost engagement from patients within vulnerable populations and provide guidance on how to navigate the technology are key steps towards success. To achieve true digital inclusion in virtual wards, organisations must strive for equity in opportunities and acknowledge the importance of community involvement in the decision-making process.
Benefits of virtual wards
- Improves the patient experience with the option to receive home care
- People recover better in their own homes
- People can manage chronic conditions more flexibly
- Patients have loved ones and families
- Easier access to care
- Less likely to catch an infection or virus
- Cost savings of not having a patient on a physical ward
- Seamless data sharing between providers
- Ease of virtual consultations- patients can see specialist consultants without having to go to a different place
- Single source of truth patient data coming from one place rather than multiple sources
Virtual wards offer a range of benefits for healthcare providers and patients alike. Studies have shown that people recover best in their home environment, are more relaxed, and experience less stress. At home, many patients have their family close by and even little things like their own food in the fridge. Patients, on average, get an extra two hours of sleep than on a hospital ward. All these factors help to create a good environment for a successful recovery.
Remote monitoring technology and the ability to treat patients at home have the ability to relieve pressure from the health service community services and create capacity on the hospital ward.
By providing round-the-clock access to medical care, virtual ward services are helping to reduce hospital stays and provide cost savings for patients.
Additionally, healthcare providers benefit from being able to connect with their patients remotely, resulting in better communication and enhanced care coordination.
In many instances, patients receiving care at home means they’re less likely to catch a virus or infection than if they in a hospital.
Digital data collection also enables the potential to identify high-risk cases more quickly, allowing health professionals to intervene in a timely manner and start treatment early. Ultimately, virtual wards are paving the way for a new standard of patient-centred healthcare that is both cost-effective and efficient.
What clinics can virtual wards be used for?
Health Call’s virtual ward service can be used for any clinical pathway because the solution is fully flexible and device-agnostic. Medical devices, observations and thresholds can all be tailored to suit the pathway and service down to the ward and per patient level. Therefore virtual wards can services have been used for services like maternity, respiratory, heart disease, frailty and many other conditions.
What about clinical safety?
With any digital solution, patient safety is always top priority, and only suitable patients should be onboarded onto a virtual ward. It goes without saying that not every patient will be suitable for remote monitoring. However, for eligible patients, virtual wards are incredibly safe and provide patients with hospital-level care from their homes.
Automated alerts, when a patient breaches their personal thresholds, allow nurses and the virtual ward team to know when a patient becomes unwell. This helps to ensure that any symptoms of deterioration are detected and treated early.
At Health Call our Virtual ward solution has undergone a rigorous manufacturers clinical risk assessment (DCB00129) by trained and qualified Clinical Safety Officers. When working with a trust to implement our virtual ward we support them to meet their clinical safety requirements, trusts are required to meet DCB0160. This is a standard which has come out of the health and social care act 2012. Like any good risk assessment we identify points of failure and build mitigations wherever possible, to high levels of clinical safety are maintained.
Things to think about before setting up a virtual ward
When setting up a virtual ward, first think about how exactly you want this digital tool to be used. Consult the end users- the doctors, nurses and patients that will be using it day to day. Setting up focus groups is a great way to do this. Including staff early in the process will also increase investment and engagement in the long run.
It is also important to consult all of the relevant stakeholders during the process. Depending on your clinic this could include social care, none for profit services and primary care services.
Understanding the needs and characteristics of your local population is also vital to understand what capabilities your virtual ward will need to best support people. Factors such as digital poverty, languages, and literacy levels all need to be accommodated. A virtual ward for urban areas would look different to rural areas.
HEALTH CALL’S VIRTUAL WARD
Health Call have worked alongside NHS clinical experts and digital leaders to develop Virtual Ward technology for NHS teams.
The solutions key functionality includes:
- Customised Patient Monitoring: Our digital solution enables healthcare providers to personalise care selecting which vital signs to monitor, thresholds, and questionnaires for each patient, ensuring an individualised approach to their care.
- Intelligent Alert System: By implementing our smart alerts and reminders, healthcare professionals can promptly respond to health concerns, enhancing user experience and ensuring timely interventions for better outcomes.
- Intuitive Clinical Dashboard: Patient-level analytics and visual charts and graphs can also be exported in PDF format to be shared or for further analysis. This powerful tool ensures that you are always up to date on the most important metrics for your patient’s care.
If you are looking to set up a virtual ward and would like any support or information get in touch our team are happy to help at [email protected].