Australia’s first ever virtual triage service is being rolled out across Victoria as part of a $21 million Andrews Labor Government investment. Initiated by Northern Health, the expanded Victorian Virtual Emergency Department (VVED) aims to ease emergency department pressures throughout the state.
Northern Health’s virtual emergency department has proved immensely successful since it began in October 2020, allowing patients – including those with COVID-19 – to talk to emergency nurses and doctors from their home or work. With nearly 90 per cent of patients using the virtual ED avoiding an ambulance trip or hospital visit, the virtual ED’s success encouraged other health services to replicate it. Now the Andrews government is taking it even further by funding a state-wide expansion.
Northern Hospital Epping has one of the busiest emergency departments in Victoria, with significant numbers of the community not seemingly being patients of a local GP and therefore turning to the Northern ED nurses for treatment and care. The pandemic only exacerbated these pressures. In response to the demand, Northern Health partnered with La Trobe University researchers to pilot a virtual emergency department to offer a triage service to patients at home.
By the virtual ED’s one-year anniversary in October 2021, it had seen nearly 6,000 patients and expanded its capacity even further by partnering with Ambulance Victoria (AV). This partnership allows paramedics to use the service from a patient’s home and receive emergency medical advice and care.
The state-wide VVED will continue this partnership with Northern Health’s expanded VVED team now accepting referrals from AV crews across the state, providing virtual clinical assessments, medical advice, treatment and local referrals where required.
‘The expansion of the virtual ED across the state will help relieve some of the challenges and demand our emergency departments are facing due to COVID-19,’ said Minister for Health Martin Foley when announcing the wider service.
‘The virtual ED at Northern Health has been a great success and helped patients and staff through a very challenging global pandemic and I’m pleased to see it being rolled out across the state,’ added Member for Thomastown Bronwyn Halfpenny.
‘COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to make a transformative leap in telehealth and digital health more generally,’ said Professor James Boyd, leader of the La Trobe University team who worked with Northern Health. ‘In this case, we either build bigger emergency departments, or we use technology to find another solution. We hope that virtual triage will lead to a new way of delivering emergency care.’
The Andrews Labor Government funded the expansion of VVED in February this year as part of its $1.4 billion package to support the Victorian health system respond to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.
The package included $225 million to ease pressure on hospitals and ambulances by increasing support outside emergency departments, including through the state-wide VVED, expansion of the COVID Positive Pathways program, eight additional GP respiratory clinics and five new urgent care centres.
A further $1.5 billion in funding was recently announced to support health services to deliver the government’s COVID Catch Up Plan.