Heart Failure Patients to Receive Home-Based Care Thanks to Virtual Ward Expansion

Heart Failure Patients to Receive Home-Based Care Thanks to Virtual Ward Expansion

A groundbreaking initiative pioneered in the North West of England is poised to revolutionize heart failure care across the nation. The success of the region’s first heart failure virtual ward has prompted a nationwide expansion, enabling thousands of heart failure patients to receive life-saving treatment from the comfort of their own homes.

New clinical guidance issued by the NHS this week encourages local health systems to embrace virtual wards for heart failure patients, who often face prolonged hospital stays. Heart failure affects approximately 200,000 individuals annually, and its management demands substantial NHS resources. Around 5% of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK stem from heart failure.

The Liverpool heart failure virtual ward, a collaborative effort between Liverpool University Hospitals NHS FT and Mersey Care NHS FT, was among the first two of its kind in England. Since its launch in May 2022, this innovative approach has provided care to over 500 patients in the familiar surroundings of their homes.

Virtual wards, also known as hospital at home, offer an alternative to traditional hospital care for suitable patients. By leveraging telehealth technology, virtual ward teams can effectively support individuals who would otherwise require hospital admission for heart failure treatment.

Dr. Rajiv Sankaranarayanan, Consultant Cardiologist and Heart Failure Virtual Ward Lead in Cheshire and Merseyside ICB, emphasized the benefits of virtual ward care: “Our experience has demonstrated that treating stable heart failure patients at home, under the guidance of our specialist teams and with the aid of telehealth technology, leads to improved recovery and outcomes.”

Colette Melia, 66, was among the first patients to experience the benefits of the heart failure virtual ward. She described the experience as “like having a doctor on tap.”

Colette, who has Crohn’s disease, suffered from fluid overload due to heart muscle damage. The virtual ward team effectively treated her condition with outpatient intravenous diuretics to reduce fluid buildup and administered medication to strengthen her heart pump, all while managing her care remotely.

Mersey Care’s telehealth team provided daily monitoring of Colette’s condition, and multi-disciplinary team rounds were conducted via telephone or video conferencing. Technology enabled daily ECG recordings, vital sign monitoring (blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, pulse), and symptom and observation tracking, with all readings transmitted to the team.

“Knowing that I was being constantly monitored gave me immense reassurance,” Colette stated.

The expansion of heart failure virtual wards follows the NHS’s achievement of its target to establish 10,000 virtual ward beds last month. Since April 2022, over 240,000 patients have successfully received treatment on virtual wards.

In the North West, over 1300 virtual ward beds are currently available to treat patients in their homes this winter. To date, more than 23,000 patients across the region have been successfully admitted to virtual wards for various conditions, including acute respiratory infections and frailty.

Dr. Michael Gregory, Medical Director for NHS England – North West, commented: “For many individuals, recovering from an illness at home, surrounded by loved ones, is the most effective approach.

“The expansion of virtual wards, or hospital at home, allows patients to remain active and maintain their independence while undergoing medical treatment, potentially alleviating pressure on our hospitals.

“It’s encouraging that the NHS is expanding this innovative service to encompass a broader range of conditions, particularly as we enter the winter months.”

Virtual wards enable patients to receive safe hospital-level care in the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by their support network. Highly skilled clinical staff continuously monitor patients’ vital signs through home or virtual visits, utilizing technology such as apps, wearables, and other medical devices.

Blood tests, medication prescriptions, and intravenous fluid administration are also possible within the virtual ward setting. This approach not only accelerates recovery but also frees up hospital beds for patients requiring inpatient care.

Categories: Health