A new study reveals public enthusiasm for home-based healthcare, but confusion over the term ‘virtual ward’ poses a significant obstacle.
Virtual wards have significant implications for patient care. Under this model, patients receive hospital-level care in their homes, which could dramatically improve their comfort, reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, and facilitate faster recovery due to the familiar and relaxed environment. It also enables the maintenance of regular contact with health professionals via digital technology, ensuring continuous monitoring and intervention when needed.
Research has demonstrated that home-based care models, including ‘virtual wards’, can be as effective as traditional hospital care for many conditions, with reduced rates of complications and readmissions. Moreover, home-based care offers the opportunity for increased patient engagement and self-management, which may lead to improved long-term health outcomes.
However, there are also potential challenges. Accessibility to technology and digital literacy may present barriers, particularly among older or disadvantaged populations. The required infrastructure – reliable broadband internet, appropriate devices, and a stable power supply – might not be available to all. Furthermore, certain conditions may not be suitable for home-based care, and there may be increased pressure on family members or carers who live with the patient.
Research by The Health Foundation
The Censuswide research commissioned by the Health Foundation highlighted the potential impact of terminology on public support for innovative health care models. The study showed that while the concept of home-based health care was generally popular, there was a lack of understanding about what ‘virtual wards’ meant, which could hinder the acceptance of this initiative.
The study also found that knowledge about the NHS’s use of technology correlated with support for virtual wards. Those with more knowledge were more likely to support the idea. This highlights the need for a comprehensive public education campaign to ensure understanding and acceptance of this model of care.
Demographics also played a role in the acceptance of virtual wards. Disabled individuals, those with a carer, and carers themselves were more supportive of the concept, likely due to the convenience and potential benefits of home-based care. However, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups were less supportive, possibly due to a lack of access to or familiarity with the necessary technology.
Older adults were more receptive to the idea, which is significant given that this group is more likely to have chronic conditions that require ongoing management. The majority of NHS staff also supported the initiative, likely recognising the potential benefits to patient care and hospital capacity.
Knowledge and Demographics Impact Support for Virtual Wards
Further insights revealed a correlation between an individual’s knowledge about the NHS’s use of technology and their support for virtual wards. Respondents who professed significant or some knowledge were more likely to support virtual wards (69% and 52%) than those with little to no knowledge (35% and 24%).
Moreover, disabled individuals, those with a carer, and carers themselves were more inclined to support virtual wards than the general population (50%, 58%, and 55%, respectively, compared to 45% of the total population). However, people from socioeconomic groups D and E, accounting for approximately 25% of the UK population, exhibited less support for virtual wards than opposition (36% vs 38%).
As virtual wards become an increasingly important part of the NHS’s strategy, there is a need for a better public understanding of the concept. The government and NHS should engage in extensive public education campaigns, provide necessary resources to those who might struggle to access technology and ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the virtual wards program to address any potential issues and maintain high-quality care.
The potential of virtual wards is significant. With the right support, they could play a crucial role in modernising healthcare and addressing the care backlog in the NHS. However, public acceptance will be essential for their successful implementation.
Revitalise and Recharge: Health & Fitness from The Bournemouth Observer.