|In March 2020, to support the COVID-19 response in Wales, TEC (Technology Enabled Care) Cymru and partners rapidly implemented the large-scale roll-out of a video consulting service. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold, and with a nationwide lockdown looming, healthcare professionals needed to have a safe and secure way to continue seeing patients. Introducing video consultations meant that the NHS Wales services could continue in uncertain times.
How did Wales introduce video consulting?
Wales is part of the United Kingdom (UK) and has a population of just over 3 million people. Wales’ health and care system is made up of seven health boards and three trusts. Funded by the Welsh Government, TEC Cymru is hosted by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. It supports the shift to technology-enabled care across Wales.
After a rigorous procurement process, the Attend Anywhere (AA) platform was chosen for the video consulting service. The AA platform was designed specifically for virtual health appointments. It can be accessed easily via a browser without any need for a download. (AA is also used in Scotland – another part of the UK – where it is called Near Me.)
The initiative was unprecedented and fast-paced. As a result, the TEC Cymru team needed to expand quickly and bring new skillsets on board. An agile approach was adopted, with daily meetings held between team members (who were recruited rapidly and, in part, from other organisations). The project partnered with external stakeholders, such as Digital Health and Care Wales, Digital Communities Wales, Digital Health Ecosystem Wales, and Life Science Hub Wales.
For safe and secure delivery of the service, it was critical that the team provided the training, guidance and tools that would be needed by the health practitioners using it. A series of toolkits, resources and videos was produced to equip the service users with the knowledge they needed to get started.
As a bilingual nation, Wales operates in both Welsh and English. It was important that the team took the two languages into consideration to produce bilingual content when and where needed.
What successes and benefits did Wales obtain from video consulting?
The roll-out of the video consulting service has been a huge success. The first video consultation was held on 16 March 2020. By September 2021, over 240,000 consultations have taken place, across more than 100 specialties (different diseases and conditions).
The benefits of video consulting are many. In the first instance, patients and clinicians were able to meet without the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Other benefits cited by patients in TEC Cymru’s evaluation involve: reduction in travel and travel costs, including parking (92%); time saved (87.3%); convenience (87.6%); flexibility of appointments; and improved access to care (85.5%). Improved family involvement (78.6%) also occurred, because video consulting allows others to easily join in appointments. For patients, there is no need to take time off work or school (81%), and many of them said that video consultations made them feel more relaxed (74.3%).
For clinicians, there is reduced patient waiting time (68.6%) and more efficient use of their time and space (74.8%). Video consulting can be used to enhance a clinical session or determine clinical need, and clinicians are able to source visual resources immediately as they are already online.
There are considerable environmental benefits, too, due to the lack of CO2 emissions and improved use of physical resources.
As reported on 23 August 2021, rigorous evaluation of the new service took place. To obtain this data, a total of 22,978 clinician and patient surveys and 178 semi-structured interviews with clinicians and patients were analysed.
What are Wales’ achievements and future plans?
Close to a quarter of a million video consultations have taken place so far in Wales, with consistently high satisfaction rates among both clinicians and patients. The launch of the service has led to better coordinated care and clinical outcomes, and improved patient and staff experience - so it is something the Welsh Government is exploring to continue. The government is looking at the longer-term options for the sustainable use of video appointments as one of the ways future health and care services will be delivered in Wales.
Since, video consulting is not suitable for everyone, however, a blended approach of face-to-face, telephone appointments, and video consultations is being explored. For more on hybrid care, see the EHTEL website.
What are the TEC Cymru resources?
As part of its mission, TEC Cymru offers toolkits, evaluations, and published reports, including for clinicians. The resources can be scaled up or down, depending on needs. A YouTube channel offers a growing series of videos. A regular series of events is on offer. Follow the TEC Cymru team on Twitter.
Visit the official TEC Cymru website for loads more resources on video consultation in Wales or to reach out to the team to learn more.