Technology enables ongoing healthcare intervention for children

Tech-savvy patients being treated in and by staff across the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network are embracing the shift towards telehealth models of care.

Since the introduction of social distancing measures, it has sparked a 154 per cent increase in telehealth models of care being delivered at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH) and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) since the outbreak of COVID-19.

With more than 100 departments and services set up for telehealth across both hospitals, face-to-face consultations are now being provided virtually – in many cases for the first time – by leveraging the infrastructure of the state’s digital health agency eHealth NSW.

This is being done to great effect in the palliative care and chronic pain unit, where a play clinic enabling patients and families to connect, socialise and have fun is now taking place online, contributing to a 12-fold increase in demand for virtual meeting rooms.

“With precautions in place to protect our most vulnerable patients, we can't invite them to the hospital at the moment or risk their health in any way,” said Senior Child Life Therapist Kirsty-Leah Goymour, who has managed the SCH pain and palliative care play clinic for the past eight years.

“To stay connected, we’ve created a virtual play clinic which is operating via Pexip.  From the hospital to their homes, we offer play opportunities, read stories, sing and support each other.

“The families are excited we can stay in touch, and this has actually presented new opportunities for families who couldn't attend in person previously because of distance and location."

Children with difficult-to-treat asthma and cystic fibrosis, meanwhile, are being protected given their heightened vulnerability to COVID-19.

To minimise the risk that they contract the severe respiratory illness from someone within the community, the respiratory team at SCH has identified patients to undertake ‘home spirometry’ to measure their lung function.

Spiro Home devices are compatible with smartphones, enabling clinicians to determine via Bluetooth if a patient’s lung function has declined or if their treatment therapy is working.

“Being able to access this device during the pandemic is supporting the management of their chronic respiratory condition and making a long-term positive difference to the lives of these children and their families and keep them closer to home,” said Professor Adam Jaffe, Head of Respiratory at SCH.

At The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, occupational therapist Emma Cowley said telehealth has enabled a large multidisciplinary clinic to stay connected, complete regular team meetings and offer its families the flexibility to attend clinical appointments while adhering to social distancing.

“I am  confident that even when COVID-19 restrictions have passed we will be using telehealth a lot more in our clinical practice,” said Ms Cowley.

Experts in departments like neurology, neurosurgery, nephrology, genetics and child development are also using the benefits of telehealth to connect and support children and families remotely.