Galway University Hospitals have delivered over 36,000 virtual outpatient appointments since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the earliest public health measures which came into place to help manage COVID-19 in hospitals, when the healthcare system was still preparing for a worst case surge in cases, was cancelling many in person health services.
“Almost overnight clinical teams had to re-assess how they could safely manage patients and put plans and processes in place to enable that,” said Chris Kane Galway University Hospitals General Manager.
Looking at patient and staff safety, there was simply no way to run many of the hospitals’ regular face to face outpatient clinics, so doctors turned to technology to connect with patients instead.
Zoom and other video conferencing programmes have seen a surge in usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a doctor’s consultation has more complex requirements than most meetings.
Then there was the sheer scale of the amount of appointments Galway’s hospitals make with patients, over 280,000 outpatient appointments at GUH alone each year.
“However, all our clinical teams reacted really quickly to the rapidly evolving situation and put systems in place to ensure that their patients continued to have access to care,” Chris Kane said.
Dr Yvonne Smyth, Consultant Cardiologist at UHG added, “The cardiology outpatient service in University Hospital Galway is an extremely busy one; we see 9,500 patients each year.
“Prior to the onset on COVID-19 this involved up to seven clinics per week, with up to 50 patients attending each clinic.”
From the middle of March it was clear they wouldn’t wouldn’t be able to run their typical cardiology clinics, she said.
“In addition to the unacceptable risk of having large numbers of patients waiting in close proximity, we were also very conscious of the profile of our cardiology patients, many of whom were older and had other underlying health conditions that made it necessary for them to cocoon.”
“Some of our patients require the support of a family member or friend to physically attend their appointment, further increasing the number of people at the clinic.”
Starting with telephone conferences, and later moving to video calls as well, the cardiology department at Galway University Hospitals has conducted 3,800 virtual outpatient conferences during this pandemic.
“Of course, if we felt at any time that a patient needed to be seen in person, we made arrangements to do that and all the necessary infection prevention and control measures were taken.
“Our outpatient cardiac diagnostic service has resumed and patients attend in person for cardiac investigations including ECHO and stress testing.”
“It is also important to note that emergency cardiology continued 24/7 throughout this period and we continue to urge patients not to delay seeking medical help if they experience chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.”