Aged care provider Feros Care has seen a quick return on its investment in a new video conferencing suite, estimating that its new solution has paid for itself in 13 months mainly through a reduction in travel and accommodation expenses for care staff.
Feros Care, which is also providing telehealth services over its new LifeSize system, predicts that when multi-party conferences, desktop-to-desktop and mobile-to-desktop conferences are included, the system will have paid itself off within three to six months.
The company, which provides residential, day and respite care as well in-home respite and community care services in Queensland and NSW, is also now able to offer an easy way for its residential clients to video conference with family and friends through Skype.
While many companies offering proprietary systems disapprove of Skype, the capability to interact with it was one of the main reasons Feros Care chose the LifeSize suite in the first place.
Last year, Feros Care purchased seven LifeSize room-based systems and a LifeSize Passport device, which allows users to make point to point video conferences from anywhere.
Feros Care also bought 100 licences to LifeSize's ClearSee system, which lets remote working staff to dial into the room-based units from their laptops or mobile devices.
Feros Care's IT and communications manager Glenn Payne told an analysts' briefing recently that while staff communications was a major reason for purchasing a dedicated video conferencing system, the organisation also wanted to explore the use of telehealth for better resident and client care.
Mr Payne said that before introducing video conferencing, Feros Care was trying to run a centralised business without using centralised collaborative tools.
“We would spend a lot of time hiring venues and going to meetings as we don't have a traditional office structure,” Mr Payne said. “We only have six offices and we have a lot of staff who work from home. What that means for Feros Care was that we weren't getting that communication out to staff. They were very isolated out there and they weren't feeling a part of the organisation.”
The not-for-profit was spending large amounts of money in accommodation and travel costs for staff coming in for monthly meetings, as well as when new staff were being interviewed and recruited.
Mr Payne said the organisation decided it needed to invest in using video conferencing to communicate with staff, but also to investigate telehealth applications, particularly through some of the trials that the former federal government was funding for the NBN.
Thirteen months later, Mr Payne said the use of video conferencing had changed pretty much everything Feros Care does in terms of procedures and processes. “We don't have to have staff meetings where everyone has to come in. We do them all by VC.”
He said the company estimated it would need to be doing 18 site-to-site conferences every month – which have an average cost of $403.22 – to achieve its forecast return on investment, but staff have taken to the technology so well that they are doing about 60 site-to-site VCs a month.
“What that doesn't include is our desktop-to-desktop VCs,” he said. “We have now just about chalked up 7000 desktop-to-desktop video conferences, and it has changed the way we work.”
In addition to using it for staff communication, Feros Care is undertaking two federally funded trials, one of which was funded under the NBN-enabled Telehealth Pilots Program and which is due to report next year.
Called the My Health Clinic at Home project and aimed at seniors with chronic illnesses living in Coffs Harbour, this $2.8 million pilot is looking at new ways to use the NBN in healthcare. It involves using a touchscreen device with in-built video camera and peripheral devices to monitor health and wellness at home.
The trial includes in-home monitoring of vital signs and general wellness, self-management education about health conditions and in-home video conferencing with doctors, nurses and friends and family.
“We now have over 100 tablets in people's homes that we are now managing via one telehealth nurse back in Coolangatta,” Mr Payne said. “Every day we have interaction with these clients and they seem to love it. A lot of these people are home-ridden and can't get out so it helps with the social isolation.”
One of the aims of the project is to see if it is financially sustainable in the long term. While the results won't be released until next year, Mr Payne said Feros Care's statistics are showing that it is a viable solution simply in terms of time saved for nurses having to travel to each home.
The other project is called the Technology Enabled Multidisciplinary Care Advisory Service (TEMCAS) pilot, which is using wireless and high-definition devices at three of Feros Care's residential aged care facilities in northern NSW. The devices are not only allowing residents to do bedside video consultations with a nurse and a remote doctor, but also to Skype with family and friends.
“Thirteen months ago we wouldn't have been able to go for those tenders and would have been relying on third parties,” Mr Payne said. “It is now being adapted into our everyday business. With our staff, there is a new word now that we use which is 'ClearSee', as in 'I'll ClearSee you'. There is a whole new language that is coming out with this.
“We've also got some new business down in Tasmania because of the NBN. As we don't have a care manager in Tasmania, we are actually running a care manager from Victoria all via video conferencing and that wouldn't have been possible for us 12 months ago.”
LifeSize's country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Gerry Forsythe, said that while video conferencing works perfectly well over ADSL2+, a lot more will be possible with high-speed broadband.
Mr Forsythe said he believed telehealth would really come to the fore when clinicians were able to transfer patient records and images immediately.
Feros Care was one of several aged and community care organisations that are using LifeSize's products. Others include RSL LifeCare and the Salvation Army, along with Bendigo Health and Mater Health Services North Queensland.
Mr Forsythe said one of LifeSize's partners was also talking with a not-for-profit that helps visually impaired people. LifeSize is able to record video conferences, and it also integrates with Microsoft's Lync, which has capabilities for the visually impaired built in.
LifeSize's international vice president, Andreas Wienold, said the company was also very keen on WebRTC, the browser-based standard for real-time communications that is stirring a lot of interest in the telehealth community.
LifeSize has created a WebRTC app for those wanting to try out the new technology, which allows users to make video calls through a web camera and their browser without having to download software like Skype.
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