Outpatient appointments undergo digital transformation during COVID-19

A male health professional sits in front of computer and conducts an online conversation with two other people who are visible on the computer screen.
May 15, 2020

Outpatient departments across the South Metropolitan Health Service (SMHS) have harnessed leading edge technology to deliver innovative models of care during COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, outpatient services at Fiona Stanley, Fremantle and Rockingham  hospitals used digital technology including phone and video for more than 48,000 appointments since March.

In 2018, the SMHS Telehealth Strategic Plan was developed to set the direction for embedding digital health into standard clinical practice.

However the two year plan was expedited during COVID-19 to ensure staff and patient safety as well as maximise the efficient use of time and resources.

SMHS Executive Director Clinical Service Planning and Population Health, Kate Gatti, said there are currently over 20,000 digital appointments booked for May with that figure growing daily.

“The digital outpatient project has provided us with the opportunity to appropriately embed digital health technology in to our clinical appointments,” Kate said.

“While getting the processes up and running faster than expected was a silver lining of COVID-19, we want to make sure the project continues to evolve over time and digital technology becomes part of the whole picture when it comes to outpatient care.&rdquo

“The use of telephone and video calls does not replace face-to-face appointments – it simply provides us with another option to enhance the patient experience while also providing benefits to the clinician and health system as a whole.”

Quick statistics for April include:

  • 64 per cent of SMHS outpatient appointments were being delivered digitally (59 per cent telephone and 5 per cent video)
  • video call user base increased by more than 600 per cent in 6 weeks (currently 720 clinical users)
  • more than 60 per cent of specialties have begun using in-home video (39 of 62)
  • all specialties with digital-appropriate patients (62) are now conducting digital outpatients by either phone or video.
Table: Top 10 specialties by attended appointments (telephone and video)
Specialty Number of appointments
Cardiology 1,809
Orthopaedics 1,611
Obstetrics 1,400
Oncology 1,370
Endocrinology 1,322
Pre-admission and Pre-anaesthetics 1,241
Gastroenterology 1,148
Gerontology 1,012
Respiratory 1,005
Rehabilitation in the Home (RITH) 966


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