“How come you didn’t attend your last appointment?” is a frequently asked question in healthcare. In fact, each year in Queensland thousands of outpatient appointments are missed or forgotten.
When Dr Gaurav Puri; Staff Specialist in Endocrinology from Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service, asked this question to a patient on Thursday Island earlier this year, the patient said he simply didn’t have the time. “This man had three specialist appointments booked over two weeks, plus a fourth appointment with his GP to coordinate his care. And this cycle would recur every three months. Continual travel to the clinic was difficult and disruptive to his life,” Dr Puri said.
“I realised that this scenario would be faced by thousands of other Queenslanders as well.”
Well it doesn’t have to be that way anymore with the introduction of Virtual Outpatient Integration for Chronic Disease (VOICeD). VOICeD allows patients with chronic disease or who need team care to see multiple healthcare providers at one appointment via telehealth.
An adaptation of the new Telehealth Virtual Clinic -- which expanded rapidly in 2020 in response to COVID -- VOICeD is currently being trialled in Cairns by Dr Puri with a Diabetes – Renal – Cardiac multi-specialist clinic. “Diabetes, renal and cardiac conditions are often concurrent and can require up to 10 or more appointments each year. When you add travel to and from an appointment, that takes up a lot of time,” he said.
VOICeD is true care integration, with specialists co-designing a combined plan for care in partnership with the patient - and all in one appointment. “Patients can have individual follow-up appointments, or a multidisciplinary team meeting can be held to further support individualised and comprehensive care,” Dr Puri said.
And the patient-centred approach doesn’t stop there, with the entire online experience expertly co-designed in partnership with consumers, and the Health Excellence Accelerator Lab (a collaboration between CEQ and QUT-Design Lab). Reducing constant travel and time away from home and work-life aren’t the only benefits for patients, according to Dr Puri. “I have had a patient say that seeing all of their doctors at once gave them a greater understanding of how their condition affects the whole body and the importance of taking all of their medication exactly as prescribed. The opportunity to learn more about your health and your condition is also something that VOICeD can provide,” he said.
Matt Page, from CEQ’s Telehealth Support Unit said the telehealth technology behind the model means the service is accessible at home, at community clinics, and on the go. “This is great for patients who can’t easily travel for care or where the care team is distributed across Queensland. But it’s also great for clinicians as well because they can conduct their clinic from just about anywhere; it’s offering greater flexibility for them too.”
With the first patient seen in September, news about VOICeD is spreading fast. Sandra Corfield, Chief Executive Officer, Central Queensland Rural Health described it as: “one of the most exciting innovations” and Anthony, a patient, said his VOICeD appointment was “one of the best medical consultations I have had.”