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Telehealth links Thames outpatient clinics with Waikato Hospital specialists

Fiona Sayer and Bonnie O'Keefe, nurse coordinators, Thames Hospital

Photo: Two passionate advocates for telehealth at Thames Hospital – Fiona Sayer, nurse coordinator Oncology/Haematology, and Bonnie O’Keefe, nurse coordinator for Thames Outpatient Department. 

In the Thames Outpatient department there is a simple, comfy room with a few chairs, table and a TV screen. This is where patients and doctors are linked by a very secure video/audio connection between two or more sites. In this case the participants are usually a person attending an outpatient clinic at Thames Hospital, their nurse, and a specialist consultant at Waikato Hospital.

It’s called telehealth. In practice, it means a smaller hospital like Thames can bring Waikato Hospital specialists to an outpatient clinic without anyone having to travel the three-hour round trip between the two locations.

Two passionate advocates for telehealth at Thames Hospital are Fiona Sayer, nurse coordinator Oncology/Haematology, and Bonnie O’Keefe, nurse coordinator for Thames Outpatient Department.

Telehealth for outpatients, Thames Hospital

In one of many examples of telehealth at Thames, Fiona Sayer has been adapting oncology outpatient clinics for occasions when it is not practical for a specialist to travel across in person. These clinics give people face-to-face consultations with a specialist but via a TV screen real-time connection.

Sayer ran a Thames clinic in July this year where oncology patients had telehealth consultations with Matthew Seel, consultant oncologist based at Waikato Hospital. Eleven of the twelve patients were happy with the experience and satisfied with how it went.

The idea is a win-win, as it means more patients can be seen in a timely way, and a consultant’s time is used more efficiently.

Bonnie O’Keefe says there is so much scope for telehealth not just in outpatient consultations, but for inpatient ward rounds, staff education and hospital business meetings. Thames is actively doing all of these, with great results.

“It works really well for outpatients coming to a clinic appointment where no physical examination is needed, or where the consultant and patients are discussing test results,” she says. Increasingly she sees telehealth technology being located at GP practices even closer to patients’ homes so saving people even more time.

It is happening already. O’Keefe gives the example of electronic stethoscopes which allow a clinician to listen to a patient’s chest and heart without being in the same room. This

Thames Hospital Clinical Centre

Thames Clinical Centre, at Thames Hospital, where outpatients can have consultations with Waikato Hospital specialists via a telehealth link.

means a patient in Coromandel, for example, only needs to visit their local GP practice, get hooked up to an electronic stethoscope and have a consultant at Thames Hospital listen in and perhaps be present on a computer screen to discuss the results. This is particularly useful in pre-anaesthesia assessments for patients getting ready for an operation and can save a long drive to get to an appointment that might only take a few minutes.

For now, Bonnie O’Keefe and Fiona Sayer are focusing on improving the Thames Hospital outpatient telehealth clinics to be an even better experience – simple things like moving the screen (where the consultant doctor is viewed) from a higher wall-mounted position to a lower “eye level” location where it feels more natural for a seated patient to talk to the doctor.

In a year when Thames Hospital is celebrating its 150th year, the focus is as much on looking forward as it is on looking back.

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