Terms like ‘telepresence’ consulting and ‘telemedicine' may sound like they’re straight out of the sci-fi genre, but the future is already happening at Vivid Solutions, which has been consulting patients virtually.
Vivid Solution's clients, which include hospitals, have nurses who have been conducting patient ‘visits’ and consultations using telehealth conferencing technology, assisted by iPads, tablets, laptops and smart phones.
According to the company’s website, Vivid Solutions is “believed to be the first in the world to use an Apple iPad as a secure healthcare videoconferencing terminal".
Vivid Solutions’ technology has already been used to help diagnose babies and monitor patients, cutting down public health costs associated with travel time, and the ability to ‘virtually’ assessed whether patients needed to be moved for health intervention.
Vivid Solutions CEO Miles Smith
For example, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service has, in 2014, been testing the technology with Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) patients last year, such as tuberculosis patients.
DOT patients, such as people with tuberculosis, have nurses visit their homes daily to observe them taking their medication.
This is due to various reasons, such as patients forgetting to take treatment, or the pills being hard to swallow.
The patient logs onto Vivid Solution’s network through the Polycom app on a device, while a nurse observes the patient take their medicine on a large HD screen at a medical centre or hospital.
Vivid Solutions chief executive Miles Smith says previously DOT care givers took up to 90 minutes travel time per patient, and this racked up costs.
“Video telehealth conferencing cut down the time nurses spent in the car and the time taken to see each client was considerably less, with some appointments down to under 5 minutes,” he says.
As well as cutting costs, the time freed up also increased the number of DOTs carried out by 10%, allowing more patients to be seen to.
Vivid Solutions began as a not-for-profit company established by the NZ TelePaediatric Service. It launched its network with eight connected video conferencing units in 2003.
What started out as focusing on paediatric services has grown into a broader service with over 350 highly secure conferencing endpoints around the country located in district health boards, the Ministry of Health, university medical schools and a number of primary and community health organisations.
The company currently has a 95% share of the New Zealand market in teleconference technology
There are plans to roll out the technology out to other areas where travel is involved, such as patients who have geographical or accessibility challenges.
“For example, patients who live in Kaitaia and need to regularly travel to Whangarei for medical appointments can now have their blood tests done locally and simply participate in a video consultation with their doctor for the follow up appointment,” Smith says.
Patients across the Pacific could also benefit from the virtual appointments.
Stephan Coetzee, previously the sales executive of Orion Health, was appointed as Vivid Solution’s general manager of customer developments last year. One of his objectives is to oversee the growth of the company into the Pacific Islands.
The telehealth conferencing equipment is currently set up in hospitals and health centres in Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Vivid Solution's network was set up last year in Rarotonga Hospital
Smith says they’re exploring further options, including a website patients can log onto to have a conference call.
“Most laptops have a camera and microphone, so instead of an app, you go to an address and put in a meeting number, like a virtual meeting room,” he says.
Vivid Solutions estimates that New Zealand patients virtually meeting with nurses from home could save the district health boards millions of dollars a year.