In the UK and across the world, hospitals have seen record admissions this winter amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Scientists feared this would happen for much of 2020, as laboratory testing found that Covid-19 was neutralised by ultraviolet sunlight but spread easily in dry, cold conditions. As skies darken and temperatures plummet, healthcare systems need to do all they can to keep the number of patients hospitalised to a minimum.

Enter Covid-19 Virtual Wards (CVWs). For hospitalised Covid-19 patients with an improving clinical trajectory, who nevertheless still need close monitoring, CVWs can allow them to head home from hospital early. This frees up their bed for a sicker patient who might need it, while allowing them to continue their recovery at home, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be promptly readmitted to hospital if things take a turn for the worse.

CVW patients are provided with a pulse oximeter and asked to take daily readings at home, alongside information about temperature and symptoms, which are uploaded into an app driven by artificial intelligence (AI). If the AI detects any abnormalities in patient data that could indicate a need for medical attention, hospital staff are notified and can take appropriate action.

Virtual wards were launched before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, but have been of particular benefit now that the healthcare system has become so stretched.

Luscii is facilitating Covid-19 virtual wards across Europe and Africa

Remote healthcare platform Luscii is one of the tools now being used to facilitate a remote Covid-19 care.

Luscii’s CVWs are configured for the needs of each ward they are being used on, and can be rolled out within around three to five days.

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Luscii founder and CEO Professor Daan Dohmen says: “In the Luscii platform there is an algorithm setting, which will detect which patients are at risk or need extra attention. An alert is automatically signalled and a nurse will then look deeper into the medical file of the patient and their data and can reach out via phone or video call, in order to do further triage and decide whether a doctor needs to be seen or an ambulance has to be sent.”

Almost 50% of hospitals in the Netherlands, where Luscii originates, use the platform for different diseases. In Europe the software is also being used in Ireland, the UK and Sweden, while in Africa it is being used in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

Prior to the pandemic, Luscii was typically used to facilitate the care of chronically ill patients with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure and diabetes, as well as people experiencing high-risk pregnancies or who are recovering from surgery.

“It’s very helpful to guide patients over a distance,” says Dohmen. “Patients, even the elderly, love it – they don’t love to be sick, of course, but they love to be supported at home instead of going to hospital all the time.”

Luscii’s platform is now being used in UK hospitals in Sunderland, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Airedale, Wolverhampton and London.

Virtual wards could be the future of hospital healthcare

CVWs have been proven to cut hospital admissions and bed occupancy, as well as reduce length of stay. As such, the UK’s NHS has recommended that all integrated care systems establish CVWs to support earlier and safe discharge of Covid-19 inpatients.

Currently, the CVW model is recommended for hospitalised Covid-19 patients whose symptoms are improving and who have had no fever for at least 48 hours without having to take fever-reducing medication.

Post-pandemic, Dohmen believes virtual wards will remain a popular option for modern hospitals, due to the benefits they provide to both patients and medics.

Dohmen says: “My brother-in-law died of pancreatic cancer last year. When he was very sick during chemotherapy, he had to go to the hospital all the time for regular five-minute checkups. He could go home quickly, but his energy for the rest of the week was gone.

“I personally saw close-by how this technology can help to unlock the power of patients – we can help them to take care of themselves and be independent while feeling supported by the doctors and nurses who are literally watching over them 24/7. I think that’s the future of healthcare. It will help us create better services and prevent the unnecessary use of healthcare resources.”