Acute care virtual wards will be led and managed by clinical staff and there will be no imposition on patients to opt for this avenue of care, the HSE Chief Information Officer (CIO) has stressed.
The HSE will open two virtual acute care wards this year as part of a drive to increase telehealth services across the health sector.
The virtual wards will be operated from University Hospital Limerick and St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin.
It is hoped that the virtual wards will help reduce hospital admissions and support early hospital discharge. They are due to open by mid-to-late 2024.
The virtual wards are being introduced under the HSE Telehealth Roadmap 2024-2027: Building Blocks for the Embedding and Expansion of Telehealth.
According to HSE CIO Mr Fran Thompson, virtual wards in Norwich, UK, have proven successful and led to reductions in patient waiting times and increased hospital bed capacity.
“There they have seen an increase in capacity following the introduction of virtual wards,” Mr Thompson told the Medical Independent.
The planned virtual wards will be the first of their kind within the public hospital system in Ireland.
The HSE has commenced a tender process for the provision of remote health monitoring technologies to support the implementation of virtual ward care models. The estimated value of the tender is €500 million.
Each ward will have between 20 and 30 patients and will be led by a team of consultant and nursing staff.
Patients will be reviewed and monitored remotely using equipment or wearable devices provided by the hospital.
The HSE has described virtual wards as a “safe and efficient alternative to bedded care enabled by technology” that can support patients with acute conditions or an exacerbation of a chronic condition to instead receive care at home using remote monitoring technology.
General surgical and general medical wards are the type of settings that could have a virtual equivalent, according to Mr Thompson.
Mr Thompson did not state which disease areas would be supported by the new virtual wards. However, according to procurement documents, they will initially support patients with respiratory, cardiac, and endocrine conditions. See news feature