The South Australian Government hopes a virtual health service will reduce the number of aged care residents going into hospital after a trial program saw 80% of participants avoid hospital admission.
Instead, they received virtual treatment from a doctor while still in their aged care facility.
Hospitals across Australia have faced ramping concerns, with COVID-19 leading to a spike in hospital admissions and emergency room visits.
Chris Picton, SA Health Minister, said the program freed up hospital resources while lengthy wait times were avoided for the elderly.
“That reduces, we expect, six hours of time on average in the emergency department, two hours of time for the ambulance, and for many people what could end up being quite a lengthy hospital stay and additional pressure on the system,” Minister Picton told ABC News.
South Australian patients were forced to spend 3,567 hours ramped in September, although, that was a 5% decrease on the previous month.
Emergency department (ED) admissions have seen a 6% increase for the “urgent, most serious cases” compared to 12 months ago.
“And there’s been an increase even since April of well over 2% of those very urgent cases,” Minister Picton said.
“So even as COVID-19 admissions have been going down, we’re seeing more and more serious cases come to our emergency departments, which means not only do we need more resources in our hospitals but some of these measures we can take that can help people get care in their homes are vitally important as well.”
Hospital issues have been a widespread issue across Australia. A recent incident in Sydney where an 88-year-old woman with kidney failure had to wait for more than six hours to see an emergency department doctor highlights how much pressure hospitals are under.
Staffed by a team of doctors, paramedics and nurses, the expanded virtual health consultation program is expected to reach 10,000 aged care residents across South Australia.
During the initial trial, the program had an average wait time of 10 minutes and the median online session was 30 minutes long.
David Morris, SA Virtual Care Service Executive Director, said, “You’ll get exactly the same level of expertise through this service as you would if you present to an ED [emergency department] physically.”
It is also a welcomed initiative for elderly residents, including 92-year-old Thelma Coard, who said she wants to avoid going into hospital if she can.
“If anything happened to me, or if I had a fall, I would have to go into the hospital again,” Ms Coard said.
“It’s too crowded and nobody listens.”
Instead, she said the opportunity to stay in her aged care home and speak with a doctor means she can also receive support from facility staff who know her and she can talk to.