As Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted recently, an Omicron wave is “imminent”.
The highly-infectious variant is spreading rapidly all over the world, and has prompted tighter restrictions and border measures.
To prevent our healthcare system from potentially getting overwhelmed, the authorities have devised alternative care programmes, such as the home recovery programme, to free up bed space in hospitals.
Now, there’s another care programme that some COVID-19 patients can turn to: virtual hospital wards.
There Are Now ‘Virtual Hospital Wards’ For Some COVID-19 Patients
If you’re thinking of ailing people in bed at home wearing VR headsets so they can get treated by doctors in the metaverse, well, we’re not there yet.
Instead, COVID-19 patients in these “virtual wards” get medical advice on how to treat themselves through teleconsultations at home with doctors and nurses, who do “ward rounds” daily as they would in a COVID-19 facility.
Through communication platforms, healthcare professionals would teach them how to monitor their own temperature, oxygen levels, and blood pressure, and reminded to report their readings periodically.
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The first healthcare institution to do this was The National University Health System’s (NUHS), which rolled out its virtual wards last September. In doing so, it has helped more than 500 COVID-19 patients so far, saving 3,500 bed days.
Under NUSH’ scheme, patients with smartphones receive these prompts via a chatbot, while those without smartphones are loaned a tablet with Bluetooth-connected measurement devices so they can take their readings.
Patients are typically required to report their reading three times a day.
Healthcare staff can also visit these patients at home in certain instances if required, such as to carry out blood tests.
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which has a similar scheme, even developed its own Telegram messaging bot along with SingHealth and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
The bot, called Doctor Covid, reminds patients at certain times of the day to report their readings.
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Under NUHS’ scheme, some patients who are ineligible for the home recovery programme may be eligible for the virtual ward programme, as long as their condition is stable.
- unvaccinated patients
- patients on immunosuppressive medication
- patients with chronic medical conditions
As for SGH’s scheme, two groups of COVID-19 patients are eligible:
- patients with complex medical conditions who are transferred from the hospital’s COVID-19 isolation ward
- patients who qualify for recovery at community treatment facilities but prefer to recover from home
According to The Straits Times, there have been some patients who are dying from COVID-19 who have also chosen to be a part of the programme, as they preferred to be at home.
The virtual ward scheme is clearly a win-win, as patients get to recover in the comfort of their own homes, while freeing up bed space for those with more severe symptoms.
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