Background: Australia has successfully controlled the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to other high-income countries, Australia has extensively used telehealth services.
Virtual health care, including telemedicine in combination with remote patient monitoring, has been implemented in certain settings as part of new models of care that are aimed at managing patients with COVID-19 outside the hospital setting.
Objective: This study aimed to describe the implementation of and early experience with virtual health care for community management of patients with COVID-19.
Methods: This observational cohort study was conducted with patients with COVID-19 who availed of a large Australian metropolitan health service with an established virtual health care program capable of monitoring patients remotely. We included patients with COVID-19 who received the health service, could self-isolate safely, did not require immediate admission to an in-patient setting, had no major active comorbid illness, and could be managed at home or at other suitable sites. Skin temperature, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation were remotely monitored. The primary outcome measures were care escalation rates, including emergency department presentation, and hospital admission.
Results: During March 11-29, 2020, a total of 162 of 173 (93.6%) patients with COVID-19 (median age 38 years, range 11-79 years), who were diagnosed locally, were enrolled in the virtual health care program. For 62 of 162 (38.3%) patients discharged during this period, the median length of stay was 8 (range 1-17) days. The peak of 100 prevalent patients equated to approximately 25 patients per registered nurse per shift. Patients were contacted a median of 16 (range 1-30) times during this period. Video consultations (n=1902, 66.3%) comprised most of the patient contacts, and 132 (81.5%) patients were monitored remotely. Care escalation rates were low, with an ambulance attendance rate of 3% (n=5), emergency department attendance rate of 2.5% (n=4), and hospital admission rate of 1.9% (n=3). No deaths were recorded.
Conclusions: Community-based virtual health care is safe for managing most patients with COVID-19 and can be rapidly implemented in an urban Australian setting for pandemic management. Health services implementing virtual health care should anticipate challenges associated with rapid technology deployments and provide adequate support to resolve them, including strategies to support the use of health information technologies among consumers.
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