Since its introduction to the Clark Clinic at Belfast Children’s Hospital in 2007, video conferencing has played an integral role in providing major assistance in the post-operative care and monitoring of babies and small children with major congenital heart conditions. During the 10 years that followed inception, the now HSL telehealth team has supported and further developed the Pexip powered telehealth service and it is now available to all of the NHS across Northern Ireland.
Over the last two years the HSL team has worked with the e-Health and core ICT service in the HSC Board in jointly developing the service so that it is much more scalable and affordable and can be used to provide support to many more families across the country. Since 2007, the telehealth video platform has been availed of by approximately 800 patients as part of Clark Clinic’s Home Monitoring and Neonatal Tele-Echo programmes. Without access to telemedicine, more children would be admitted to hospital, more may have potentially life-saving treatments delayed, parents would suffer from added stress and anxiety and deteriorations in the underlying cardiac status may take longer to be detected.
A highly important technology year-round for Clark Clinic’s cardiologists and heart families throughout Northern Ireland for the past 13 years, this year the Pexip telehealth platform has acted as a lifeline for parents and the families of children with heart conditions during Covid-19 isolation.
Sam McMaster, HSL’s Director of Telehealth, said: “Through the introduction of the Pexip Infinity platform to the core of the heath service in Northern Ireland we are now seeing the benefits from this investment trickling down to many parts of the community. It is this platform that has made the use of virtual consultations between staff in Clark Clinic and the patients and families now viable and affordable across the whole of this patient group.
The infrastructure also makes the key clinical resources more readily available to support the families in their homes. Whilst the technology that empowers the use of secure, private and integrated virtual consultations is invisible to the users, without the availability of Pexip from within the HSCNI infrastructure the transformation to eHealth would be much delayed.”
Reflecting on the importance telehealth had on her family life, Jo Hargan from Ballymoney, mum of Sasha who was born with a complex heart condition said: “Telehealth was my panic button – we lived over an hour away from Clark Clinic and in the lead up to Sasha’s operation it was extremely comforting for us as a family to be able to contact medical professionals immediately, any time we were concerned about Sasha’s wellbeing.
“I had two other young children to look after, so having telehealth installed also helped save us journeys to and from the hospital that without the technology would have been unavoidable.”
This wider distribution of the technology has meant that Clark Clinic doctors have been able to monitor patients and perform emergency care consultations from the comfort and safety of their own homes during the pandemic. Telehealth has allowed Clark Clinic’s young patients, who are extremely high risk of infection, to receive the same vital health care and emergency consultations without regular visits to the Belfast medical facility. The Pexip application has also provided advice and support for parents during isolation.
Commenting on the advancements and importance of the telehealth videoconferencing system in daily care and during Covid-19, Dr Brian McCrossan, Paediatric Cardiologist at Clark Clinic added: “Since its introduction in 2007, there have been incremental improvements in the video conferencing technology.
“As the Pexip platform has advanced, it has significantly improved the timeliness and ease of connecting with patients and the paediatric cardiology team. It is extremely reliable and easy to access. We are also reassured by the security of a dedicated professional video conferencing platform.
“Telehealth has played a vital role during the coronavirus pandemic as it has enabled our team to conduct a number of urgent video consultations for patients at home which have obviated the need for them to come to the emergency department.
“Parental anxiety has been more heightened than usual due to the pandemic; therefore, we have found that supporting families at home with regular video-consultations has helped to reduce stress, reduce health service utilisation and is much appreciated by parents and clinicians alike.”
Working closely with the Northern Ireland’s heart families connected with Clark Clinic, Chief Executive of The Children’s Heartbeat Trust Sarah Quinlan said: “For many heart families, having access to HSL's Pexip telehealth video platform has provided a lifeline when they needed it most.
"It connects concerned parents with medical professionals who can provide immediate advice or reassurance, significantly reducing the amount of time they have to spend travelling to and attending appointments by allowing them to access medical support from home."
The team at Clark Clinic are currently conducting a research project into extending the use of the Pexip telehealth home monitoring programme to more babies and older children with severe congenital heart disease.
To learn more about how HSL and Pexip are helping healthcare providers deliver the highest level of patient care, visit the website or email.