NHS Western Isles delivers a wide range of high quality healthcare services locally, but works in partnership with different mainland health boards to provide services and treatment that cannot be directly provided on island.
For Western Isles residents requiring treatments, procedures or appointments on the mainland, this could involve days of waiting and travelling.
Then Attend Anywhere was introduced; in many cases reducing the logistical burden of accessing medical care.
Attend Anywhere is a high quality, easy to use videoconferencing programme first developed in Australia and rolled out in Scotland by NHS24. It is completely secure so confidentiality is guaranteed and users only need access to the internet, the google chrome browser and a webcam to use it. So no special software or downloads are required; it can be used on any device - phones, tablets, PCs and laptops - literally anywhere!
Technology enabled care project officer with NHS Western Isles, Elizabeth Fowler, shares the example of a crofter in his 80s who previously had to leave his home at 3am in the morning, drive for two hours and then catch a flight to Inverness to receive care.
Now he is able to be seen by video link in Stornoway, through Attend Anywhere.
“He drives to Stornoway in the morning, buys all his crofting supplies, does his weekly shop and is back home by lunchtime,” Ms Fowler said. “He thinks it is absolutely amazing. It makes a massive difference to people not having to spend their whole day waiting for a plane, waiting for a bus, waiting for a taxi and then waiting for a consultant.”
Another experience that reinforced the importance of the technology was an encounter with an oncology patient’s wife.
“She stopped me and said, ‘I can’t tell you what a difference this has made to us. We know his cancer will come back but we feel we are better equipped to deal with it knowing that we are not going to be making a weekly trip to Raigmore’,” Ms Fowler recounted.
Videoconferencing has been used within NHS Western Isles since the technology’s infancy, but the fact that anyone with a web cam and internet browser can access Attend Anywhere has significant advantages.
Ms Fowler shared that previous videoconferencing technology was less flexible and needed to be done through healthcare premises.
Because residents of the Western Isles often use video calls in a personal capacity to keep in touch with family members living, working or studying on the mainland, patients have embraced the introduction of video consultations for healthcare.
Attend Anywhere has helped to reduce waiting times for respiratory patients by half within NHS Western Isles.
As well as travelling to the Western Isles, a respiratory consultant who lives in the South of England conducts regular video consultations with patients.
“He has a remote stethoscope so he can listen to the patient’s chest Ms Fowler shared. “He also has a virtual private network to our system so he can use our x-rays, and clinic results just as if he is in the room with the patient.”
In addition to offering patient benefits, Attend Anywhere has helped the health board to reduce carbon emissions and the costs associated with patient travel.
Ms Fowler observed that opportunities for flexible staffing arrangements created by Attend Anywhere help to address the significant recruitment challenges faced by NHS Western Isles.
“It has completely changed the way we deliver services,” she concluded. “We are very remote and rural. We have limited resources, money, staff and consultant services. Attend Anywhere has made us confident that we can effectively deliver services to our increasing elderly population in a patient-centred way.”