Bayley Harding
20 March, 2024
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Highlights of a lecture at Virtual Wards Conference on 29 February 2024 supported by an educational grant from Masimo.

Virtual wards need to become a standard part of hospital care and, by scaling up the number of patients that are admitted to them, they should become cost-effective, delegates were told at the Virtual Wards Conference in London, UK.

“It’s about turning the hospital process a little bit upside down”, said Dr Iain Goodhart, Consultant in Intensive Care and Anaesthesia, and Director of Acute Care for Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust. During his presentation, Goodhart discussed how to make virtual wards “really deliver what we need them to deliver, and what our patients need us to provide for them” in the coming 12–24 months.

Changing mindsets

The mindset that patients need to be treated in hospital needs to change. The technology is now available to help dedicated virtual ward teams look after patients as safely and effectively as if they were on a physical ward, he argued.

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The technology is now available to help dedicated virtual ward teams look after patients as safely and effectively as if they were on a physical ward.

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Moving patients onto a virtual ward may feel to be going against the norm, said Goodhart. The familiar practice is to keep patients on the wards, to be able to see patients in person and to access their electronic patient record in Epic. To send a patient home while still being under hospital care may feel unnatural at first. Healthcare professionals remain closely connected to their patients, however, and the accurate and consistent monitoring capabilities of the virtual ward, such as the ability to monitor the patient’s heart rate or oxygen saturation values etc., can mean the patient is even better safety netted on the virtual ward than they would be on the physical ward.

Patient perspective

From the patient perspective, going onto a virtual ward and being treated in the comfort and peace of your own home provides both physical and psychological benefits. Despite everyone’s best efforts, being in hospital in the UK is not always a great experience, Goodhart pointed out.

He provided an example in which a patient described their time on a “short-staffed, overcrowded, noisy ward with no daylight”. In sharp contrast, the patient described the virtual ward experience as “the most marvellous and efficient service. There was never a delay in speaking to someone and the support and advice around pain management and medication was superb”.