Health services launch Covid Virtual Ward to improve home-based care for people with suspected Coronavirus
14 January 2021
People with Coronavirus that fall into high-risk groups are to be given devices to monitor their blood oxygen levels from home, as part of an innovative ‘Covid Virtual Ward’ scheme launched by health and care partners in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
Staff at community healthcare provider Sirona care & health are using the pulse oximeter devices to monitor at-risk individuals including those with long-term health conditions and people with learning disabilities, and intervene if their oxygen levels fall below a certain threshold.
The pulse oximeter scheme is the first step in the roll-out of a comprehensive virtual ward approach in the area, which in time will allow community staff to provide a range of services to people living in their own homes as well as residential care settings. Other conditions considered for roll-out in the coming months as part of the scheme may include people suffering from chronic heart failure, physiotherapies that can be supported at home and the limited use of home oxygen provision if clinically appropriate.
Pulse oximeter devices clip on a patient’s finger and use light beams to analyse blood oxygen levels. This data will be monitored by care home or community healthcare staff, and flagged for onward referral to GPs, or out-of-hours health services, if readings give cause for concern. The Covid Virtual Ward is also now supported by a fully automated digital app that records an individual’s oxygen levels, and then feeds this data to a remote ‘dashboard’ that can be monitored by healthcare professionals. This remote approach will allow for earlier intervention for people at risk of silent hypoxia, as well as helping healthcare partners tackle Coronavirus surges across the area.
Reduced oxygen levels are associated with a much higher risk of dying from Coronavirus or suffering in the longer term, but some people do not display symptoms, such as shortness of breath, until their oxygen levels are dangerously low. The pulse oximeters allow earlier detection of this condition, known as ‘silent hypoxia’, leading to better health outcomes and reducing the length of time people need to stay in hospital.
Dr Geeta Iyer is one of the local GPs leading the roll-out of the new scheme in partnership with Sirona care & health and local hospitals. She said:
“This is a fantastic scheme that has the potential to transform how, and where, we care for vulnerable people who have Coronavirus.
“Silent hypoxia is a significant risk for those with Coronavirus from older generations and who have an existing health condition. Where people in these at-risk groups are admitted to hospital with blood oxygen levels below 92%, they are much more likely to require invasive ventilation techniques and to stay longer in hospital. Sadly, individuals in these circumstances are also at greater risk of dying from Coronavirus.”
Ceridwen Massey, Sirona’s Associate Director for Specialist Services, added:
“As a health and care system, we want to be able to intervene earlier when people’s oxygen levels start to fall and the oximetry devices, supported by community healthcare services, allow us to do that without needing to admit an individual to hospital or keep them in hospital just to be monitored. We all know people recover best in their own home and this enables individuals to be with their loved ones but we are also able to keep an eye on their blood oxygen levels.
“It’s a really exciting development that will allow us to improve care for local people and ultimately save lives.”
Sirona is currently deploying up to 3,000 devices to local people by using an army of NHS volunteers.
The service currently covers people diagnosed with Covid, over 65 and symptomatic, or under 65 and clinically extremely vulnerable group or on the Learning Disabilities register. However, following this initial approach, clinicians are keen to roll this service out to wider populations across Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.