Barnaby Joyce

New virtual hospital model to benefit rural patients and medical students

04 Jun 2020

A new virtual health hospital that remotely tracks the condition of patients from their own home was unveiled in Armidale.

Federal Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce received a demonstration of the New England Virtual Hospital’s Joint Virtual Care Centre (JVCC).

Minister Coulton said the new unique system continuously tracks heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation and blood pressure through a band worn by patients and feeds the information back to doctors and nurses in the JVCC.

“This virtual model which will continuously monitor a patient’s condition is the first of its kind and will have significant benefits for regional healthcare delivery while also taking the pressure off the hospital system,” Minister Coulton said.

“If a patient’s condition worsens, doctors - supported by artificial intelligence - can then decide if the patient can continue treatment at home or should be moved to hospital.
“The development of this regional model will enable more rural patients to manage their health from their home while remaining in continuous medical care, rather than having to stay in hospital.

It’s exciting work and a great example of local partnerships to support regional communities.”

Member for New England Barnaby Joyce said that any initiative that meant improved access to community health care and services for local patients was welcome news.

“The tyranny of distance means many of the regular health services afforded to people in the city are just not practical here in rural and regional Australia,” Mr Joyce said.

“But we’re a nation rich in ingenuity and new programs like this will save lives and deliver a better standard of living for people in the New England and across the country.”

Minister Coulton said a virtual hospital model would add value and provide more sustainable and flexible medical care for rural communities.

“We are focused on bridging the city-country divide so that rural and remote Australians can access the services they need,” Minister Coulton said.

“The issues rural and remote areas face are complex when it comes to accessing health services and recruiting and retaining doctors, that’s why we need a system which is sustainable, integrated and innovative to recognise and respond to these unique needs.  

“The benefits of flexible care, such as telehealth, have been demonstrated throughout COVID-19.

“Telehealth consultations and technology will never fully replace face-to-face care, but they do have an integral part to play in increasing access to GPs and other health professionals for rural patients.”

The centre is a key element of the University of New England’s proposed New England Virtual Hospital Network (NEVIHN), which will support medical students to undertake clinical placements in rural, regional and remote towns in New England.

A trial of the JVCC element of the NEViHN was fast-tracked as a local response to COVID-19.

(ENDS)