Visiting specialists who have not been able to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions are offering their patients continuity of care through a new dedicated telemedicine suite, the most recent addition to the Health Services Authority (HSA) continuously expanding telemedicine services.
The new telemedicine suite, located in the Specialist Clinic includes a consultation room, an examination room and a next-generation InTouch Health RP-Lite 4 telemedicine robot, nicknamed ‘Sally’. Patients can see, hear and interact with their physicians in real-time with the robot. A nurse also remains in the room or nearby to conduct check-ups or provide support when necessary.
The robot is equipped with sophisticated technology including high definition cameras that provide a clear view for the detailed and close examination required by many specialities such as dermatology. “Telemedicine has so far proven to be very beneficial and useful to our dermatology patients in these difficult times of COVID-19,” noted Dermatologist Dr Andrea Clare-Lyn Shue. “During my examination, the patient gives me a history of their problems and I control the robot via the computer. I can zoom in on any area of the skin and see everything clearly in order to make my diagnosis.”
“Patients are welcoming this new service; though it is different from what they are used to, they are adapting well. Until normalcy returns, we hope to make this a vibrant and effective service for all persons on the island,” she stated.
Patient Susan Clifford-Ebanks described her experience of having her first consultation with Rheumatologist Dr Santiago De Solo via Sally robot. “I was a bit reluctant at first because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” she said. “It’s quite comfortable and it’s been an excellent session.”
She added, “I feel like he’s in the room. It’s been a good experience…I’m excited to continue using (the robot).”
HSA psychiatrist Dr Toni-Ann Heron was among the first overseas users of telemedicine at the HSA. Prior to the launch of the telemedicine suite, she used the ‘Sally’ robot to continue providing care to some of her regular patients in the Cayman Islands while she pursued a sub-specialisation in neuropsychiatry overseas at King’s College London.
“Psychiatry is being able to foster that connection with the patient in which they feel they are in a private setting and are being listened to,” said Dr Heron. “This was very easy to replicate over Sally robot, even for the adolescents and older patients who experience anxiety and depression. It is comparable to our in-person meetings in my office.
Patients and their families have given feedback that they feel comfortable and I have observed that they disclose as much as they usually would.”
In addition to telemedicine robots, the HSA has been utilising other forms of telehealth such as video chats and telephone to consult with and triage patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
HSA Medical Director Dr Delroy Jefferson noted that expanding the Authority’s telemedicine capabilities is only the first step. The next frontier is raising awareness among patients and staff about why they need to be taking advantage of the technology.
“Telemedicine services promise convenience, broader access to specialists, cost savings and collaborations among health care professionals who may be located in multiple countries,” Dr Jefferson said. “All this potentially leads to better health outcomes.”
“There are other benefits as well. As the world braces for public health emergencies such as the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), leveraging telemedicine to combat disease is crucial. Telemedicine proves extremely beneficial in the area of infection control because it reduces patients’ exposure to viruses as well as minimizes exposure among the hospital’s own medical staff. It also minimizes the use of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, saving costs in PPE,” Dr Jefferson added.