Transforming the Working Environment with Virtual Consultation Pods
With an increasing demand for remote consultations, Birmingham Community NHS Foundation Trust has recently installed Spacestor virtual consultation pods for optimised workflow and enhanced patient convenience.
Like all NHS trusts, at the beginning of the pandemic Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust were faced with the challenge of continuing consultations during a national lockdown. Adopting the national offer of Attend Anywhere virtual consultation software to facilitate video calls with their patients, they were soon running more than 1,000 virtual consultations each week, with two specialist departments using this virtual method for over 50% of their work – a credit to their agility and adoption of new ways of working!
Clinicians at Birmingham initially used clinical spaces to deliver video consultations, however looking ahead they could see the need for clinical space increasing for face-to-face consultations. They had also been using open plan spaces but this came with a sound-proofing challenge. Keen not to lose the ground gained in digital innovation through Covid, they turned to Spacestor Healthcare for a solution.
Recent innovations in digital technology alongside heightened concerns about infection control are having an irreversible impact on how patient consultations are conducted.
Today, a blended approach of face to face and online consultations is becoming the new normal. It’s an exciting innovation with multiple benefits for both patients and practitioners alike.
The NHS Long Term Plan
Change management can be daunting and overcoming the inertia of custom and tradition often requires an external stimulus to create the impetus needed for innovation. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has provided just such a stimulus and backed by the recommendations of the recently published NHS Long Term Plan(1), many health authorities are now turning to virtual consultations as a means of providing secure, cost-effective and convenient consultations (1).
However, the reality of establishing video outpatient services in a busy and financially stretched healthcare setting often proves more complex and time-consuming than originally anticipated and clinicians often struggle to find unused clinical space that is conducive to private conversations (2). Issues of privacy are commonplace, and any space used for a video consultation blocks the use of the consulting room for face to face appointments. Similarly, although open-plan spaces and offices can be used patient privacy can easily be compromised and interviews interrupted or disturbed. It’s a problem many hospitals are facing as video consultations are becoming more popular, but thankfully it’s also a problem that has a simple, cost-saving and practical solution.
There is much interest in virtual consultations using video technology. Randomized controlled trials have shown video consultations to be acceptable, safe, and effective in selected conditions and circumstances(2)
Key Benefits of Video Consultation
Following the recent NHS (3) video consulting service evaluation some key themes are emerging that highlight the benefits remote consultations can bring. For example, a significant amount of research is now emerging showing that not only are video consultations safe for low-risk patients but that they are also associated with high levels of patient and practitioner satisfaction. Modest cost savings are also being reported compared to traditional face to face consultations (4).
Who benefits the most?
Although not suitable in every circumstance, virtual consultations are ideal for patients requiring routine follow-ups of chronic, stable conditions, for those who don’t need a physical examination and in cases where the patient-clinician relationship is already established and trusted (3).
Important benefits for the patient include:
· Improved access to specialist services
· No need to travel, saving both time and money
· Improved management of certain conditions
· Increased convenience and safety
· Reduced waiting time for an appointment
· No need to take time off work
· No need to arrange for childcare or transport
From the patient’s perspective, being able to resolve medical enquiries, or discuss test results without the need for a face-to-face appointment is a significant bonus (6). For some patients who have a hesitancy about coming into the hospital/ healthcare environment, remote consultations could potentially reduce missed or cancelled appointments and offer timely help in emergencies.
For clinicians the potential benefits are equally valuable as workloads can be managed more efficiently and resources shared more easily across departments and specialities (2). Recent research also suggests that compared with face-to-face consultations for similar conditions, video consultations tended to be slightly shorter implying potential savings both in time, costs and ease of access (6). Some clinicians have also reported that cost-savings could be made through reductions in DNA rates, which along with the increased convenience of more flexible working hours creates substantial benefits. On a more personal level, many clinicians have also commented how video consulting naturally supports person-centred and holistic care by allowing the practitioner to gain insight into their patients' home life and how this relates to the management of their condition (3).
Envisioning the Future
Creative thinking is integral to innovation and the advent of video consultations brings with it many opportunities to think laterally and maximise the advantages of working remotely. For example, medical consultations need not necessarily be tied to a clinical environment. With healthcare space at a premium, external office space can be rented, or in-house administration spaces adapted for use with video consultation pods. For patients who don’t have access to a video link at home, or the privacy needed for a medical conversation, video booths could also be located in easily accessible spaces such as public libraries, or community centres. These are all easily achievable, practical solutions to real-world problems that lead to measurable improvements in healthcare.
In early adopter practices, online consultations are proving to be popular with patients of all ages, enabling the patient to access information about symptoms, conditions and treatments, and connect to self-help options (6).
The Spacestor Virtual Consultation Pod
As virtual medical consultations become established clinicians are calling for a dedicated, purpose-built space, with high-quality video connections that allows them to communicate in much the same way as in a face-to-face consultation. The result is the uniquely engineered Spacestor Virtual Consultation Pod. Built with comfort and privacy in mind the video booth provides an optimal, inclusive video conferencing experience specifically designed to overcome the challenges of limited consulting space and the need for infection control. By providing a secure space for patients to communicate with their clinicians it’s ideal for routine follow-up visits, non-emergency medical conditions and self-care services.
For NHS providers such as Birmingham Community Healthcare’ it’s a win-win situation. Appointment flexibility increases and clinical services can be uncoupled from a fixed geographical location, allowing clinicians much greater flexibility to manage their workload.
To date, video outpatient consultations appear to be safe, effective and convenient for patients in situations where their clinicians judge them clinically appropriate. That said, at present video consultations remain just a fraction of the overall clinic workload, but with the advent of purpose-built video booths such as the Spacestor consultation pods, this is set to change as remote consultations become accepted as normal.
Today virtual consultation pods are giving the medical team a radically new way of delivering high-quality, dependable video consultations that can ensure continuity of essential appointments no matter what may happen in the future.