New Zealand’s health care sector is mobilising to prepare for a projected surge in the number of COVID patients isolating at home, including the development of a telehealth training model. Latest Ministry of Health data suggests there are around 3,500 active cases of COVID in the community, however the Government’s statistical modelling predicts that Auckland and Northland regions could see over 5,000 new cases per week, in a worst-case scenario.
Zihan Lin, clinical lead pharmacist at Zoom Pharmacy, one of the country’s largest independent pharmacies and specialists in remote healthcare support, says it is expected that the majority of those with COVID infections will be isolated at home.
“This is a once in a generation event for the health care sector and what we know about COVID is that it can be unpredictable - impacting each individual differently.
“We need to look at developing a home-based care model which can accommodate a wide range of patient needs, against a backdrop of potential supply shortages and a health system at capacity.
“The first priority for us is making sure we can have sufficient supply of medicines as the case numbers grow, and also managing the logistics of getting these supplies delivered within a short time frame - when New Zealand’s courier system is already under constant pressure from online shopping.
Lin said the rapid adoption of telehealth technology is also set to play an increasingly important role in managing outcomes for patients at home as they adopt unfamiliar treatments for COVID.
“How we communicate remotely with patients will be a key element of how well they weather the virus.
“COVID is an aggressive respiratory disease, and we know that many patients may have long term complications and may require medications such as inhalers and monitoring devices like pulse oximeters.
“Correct use of these devices is essential to improving patient outcomes and under normal circumstances a patient may have their doctor demonstrate how to use a peak flow meter or inhaler in person - we are looking at how this training and monitoring can be done remotely through a video call to ensure the devices are used correctly,” he said.
Lin said Zoom Pharmacy has developed a range of pandemic supply packs, which can be pre-purchased or delivered overnight to households in the event of a confirmed diagnosis.
He said once a patient is diagnosed, Ministry of Health guidelines require that they isolate immediately which may impact their ability to access medical supplies without putting others at risk.
“Ultimately health service providers need to look at ways a patient can be diagnosed without exposing others in the community to infection but also ensure they have immediate access to the medicines and products they need to safely and comfortably isolate at home.
“From what we can see from overseas and local experience, there are some essential products patients may need in their home which include paracetamol for pain and fever management, a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, face masks and an ethanol-based hand sanitiser.
“We can manage the rapid delivery of these supplies to patients however we also then need to ensure they understand how to correctly use what they have - which is where our telehealth model will be used support their recovery.
“We are also looking at the unique nutritional needs of COVID patients - we know that access to food supplies may be limited and with loss of taste or smell is a common symptom which can lead to reduced appetite, particularly in the first few days, and products like high energy soups, electrolytes and other light food options may be included with other essential medicines,” he said.