Real patients and virtual wards

The human factor

A chara, – Brian O’Brien (Letters, December 5th) welcomes the proposed introduction of virtual wards (“Patients to be treated at home in virtual wards”, News, December 4th).

Any initiative which could potentially improve our hospitals or which might help in addressing our unprecedented levels of excess mortality must be seriously considered.

It seems to me that virtual wards are a form of “telemedicine” that allows patients to be monitored at home by a clinical team through digital devices. At first glance, this may sound very appealing, but is it really suitable for older people with complex needs, who require comprehensive assessment and holistic care? Will these virtual wards mark the end of the informal bedside assessment? How can technology recognise a subtle change in a patient’s pallor, responsiveness or general demeanour?

I fear this may just be a convenient way for the HSE to shift even more of the burden of care over to patients and their families, and one wonders if this might just be another way for Irish patients to be let down. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 14.

Sir, – Brian O’Brien’s arguments made logical and scientific sense.

However, I was always told that medicine is a “caring” profession, and I wonder whether an interaction where a doctor has no physical presence or contact with a patient can reasonably be described as a caring interaction. An online scientific discussion about scans, blood results and treatment is important but can hardly be described as caring. Will patients miss the comforting hand on the arm and the subtle glances, smiles and eye contact that a doctor uses to comfort a patient? Is online empathy possible?

Maybe we need to accept that medicine is no longer a caring profession and that nurses and the paramedical professions such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy are the only “caring” professionals a patient will meet in the future? – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – The article about the introduction the introduction of “virtual wards” to allow the treatment of certain patients in their homes is a rare and welcome bit of good news from our troubled health service. The technologies mentioned to support this initiative are well established and will shortly be supported with ubiquitous fibre broadband to the home.

There is another crucial need to underpin this initiative and, indeed, the health service in general, the electronic medical record (EMR). This is a digital file which can be shared easily and securely, which stores an individual’s health records in great detail. Inexplicably, we lag our peer countries in Europe and globally in having this essential tool to coordinate patient health management, safely and efficiently, between hospital, primary care, emergency medicine, therapeutic services and, now, home health. The technology is there. The money is there.

That this basic building-block of modern healthcare isn’t even on the radar is both sad and mysterious. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.