Telstra and Gold Coast Health: delivering virtual care
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented healthcare companies around the world with an unprecedented challenge, as traditional methods of delivering care to patients have buckled under the strain. For Jamie Spencer, Regional General Manager, Business Development at Telstra Health, the effect of the pandemic was largely to expose a problem that was already there.
“Healthcare spending in relation to GDP is rising throughout most developed countries. And it can't continue at the rate that it is,” he explains. “The popular conception is that the traditional, centralised hospital model should be able to provide services to everyone, but the reality is that we're going to hit a crunch point, and it’s a lot closer than we think.”
In the same way that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transfromations in other industries, so too has it provoked a radical leap forward in terms of healthcare providers reevaluating their models. “The industry needs to look differently at the ways in which hospitals provide care, and how to do things differently so that people still have access to the care they need,” Spencer says. “COVID-19 has definitely started to normalise the idea of connecting digitally. It's given people the opportunity to access care in a way that they never had before, and it’s probably pushed us forward by about 10 to 15 years. ”
Founded in 2013, Telstra Health is Telstra Health works to improve lives by delivering digitally-enabled care to communities by supplying innovative digital solutions to governments and healthcare providers throughout Australia.
Telstra Health was chosen as a key partner of Gold Coast Health Services, providing their virtual health consultation platform as a way to deliver patient care remotely. “Traditionally, you might go to see a specialist at a hospital and, after a five minute conversation, be sent home,” Spencer says. “Someone living in rural Queensland might drive for up to four to six hours for that five minute appointment. Now, rather than people having to make those long journeys to see a specialist, we can provide that consultation to people in their own homes, in a way that leads to a richer conversation, which results in better feedback and, ultimately, a better standard of care.”
Telstra’s virtual care technology adopts a twofold approach. First, using Bluetooth connected devices, clinicians can monitor patients’ blood pressure, pulse oximetry, temperature and weight remotely. “It’s a basic spectrum of things that we're monitoring, but if you do those basic things well, then the positive impact can be huge,” explains Spencer, adding that these baseline metrics are then combined with a virtual appointment in which the clinician can follow up with the patient to discuss and provide results. “We've found that our service has helped to dramatically reduce readmission rates, and enabled early discharge, which means that patients get to be at home sooner,” enthuses Spencer, who also notes that, “The overarching monitoring aspect can also help people who need readmission get back into hospital sooner, which can make a huge difference in some cases.”
Spencer, who works closely with Sandip Kumar, Gold Coast Health’s Executive Director of Transformation and Digital, emphasises that the relationship between Telstra and Gold Coast is far more than that of vendor and client. “We’re looking for a real partner, not just a customer,” he explains. “I think it's really important that we continue to grow through our partnerships. That means working closely with the likes of Gold Coast University Hospital to develop our product in a way that we know meets their needs. All good partnerships are based on trust, and we're working to build that trust with Gold Coast Health.”
Long haul Covid, the brain and digital therapies
It is estimated that around 10% of people who get Covid-19 develop long haul Covid, a debilitating condition that can last many months and cause breathlessness, exhaustion and pain.
Research is underway to find out who is more likely to get it and how to treat it. Here neuroplasticity expert and owner of Harley Street Solutions in London Ashok Gupta tells us how the condition affects the brain.
What is long Covid exactly?
Long Covid is when patients who have experienced Covid-19 go on to have continuing symptoms for weeks and months afterwards. These symptoms can include breathlessness, exhaustion, brain fog, gastric issues, pain, and post-exertional malaise. It is estimated that around 10% of Covid-19 infections may result in developing long haul symptoms, and in the USA, this may be affecting over 3 million people.
How does it affect the brain?
Here at our clinic, we hypothesise that it is due to a malfunction in the unconscious brain, creating a conditioned response that keeps the body in a hyper-aroused state of defensiveness. At the core of this hypothesis is the idea that we are here because our nervous system and immune system have evolved to survive. We are survival machines!
When we encounter something such as Covid-19, the brain perceives it as life threatening, and rightly so. And in the era of the pandemic, with more stress, anxiety and social isolation, our immunity may be compromised, and therefore it may take longer for the immune system to fight off the virus and recover.
If the brain makes the decision that this is potentially life threatening and we get to the stage where we’re overcoming the virus, a legacy is left in the brain; it keeps over-responding to anything that reminds us of the virus. Even if we’ve fought off the virus, the brain will react in a precautionary way to stimuli reminiscent of the virus.
The brain may get stuck in that overprotective response, and keeps stimulating our nervous system and our immune system, just in case the virus may still be present.
What symptoms does this cause?
These signals cause a cascade of symptoms including breathlessness, extreme fatigue, brain fog, loss of taste or smell, headaches, and many others. And these are caused by our own immunes system.
In the case of long-haul Covid, symptoms in the body get detected by a hypersensitive brain which thinks we’re still in danger. The brain then chronically stimulates the immune and nervous systems, and then we have a continuation of a chronic set of symptoms.
This isn’t unique to long-haul Covid. Many patients develop chronic fatigue syndrome, sometimes known as “ME”, for example, after the flu, a stomach bug, or respiratory illness. Covid-19 may be a severe trigger of a form of chronic fatigue syndrome or ME.
How does long-haul Covid affect mental health?
Anxiety is a very common symptom in long haulers. It can be frightening to wonder about what may be happening in your body, and what the prognosis is going to be for one’s long term health. Reaching out for support for mental health is crucial for long-haulers.
How does neuroplasticity treatment work for long-haul COVID patients?
We have been working with patients for two decades with a brain retraining programme using neuroplasticity or “limbic retraining.”
We believe that through neural rewiring, the brain can be “persuaded” that we are no longer in danger and to come back to homeostasis. But to be very clear, we are not saying it is psychological in any way, but we believe there are novel ways of accessing the unconscious brain.
We recently worked successfully with a 56-year-old male with long-haul Covid, who prior to contracting Covid-19 in March of 2020 was running half-marathons and cycling, but afterwards he struggled to get off the sofa for months. Within 3 months he’s now back to 100% and running half marathons again.
At our clinic, we train the patient to be able to recognise those subtle unconscious danger signals on the periphery of consciousness. This, coupled with supportive techniques and the natural hallmarks of good health such as sleep and diet help prepare the patient to respond to perceived threats that might trigger the response.
The natural state of our brain is to default to protection. The brain prioritises survival and passing on our genes to the next generation, over any other impulse. It cares more about that than you feeling healthy and well. Protective responses are evolutionary, and are the right thing for the brain to do – it’s survival.
What digital therapies or apps are proving effective at treating long-haul Covid?
It seems that long haul patients are availing themselves of many online therapies and services, including meditation apps and wellness websites. We have an online neuroplasticity “brain retraining” video course called the “Gupta Program” which hosts 15 interactive videos and many audio exercises. This is proving very popular with long haul patients, and we are currently conducting a trial to test the effectiveness of this therapy.
What is the danger of leaving long-haul Covid untreated?
The longer it goes untreated, we hypothesise that it may become more entrenched in the brain, and become chronic in the longer term. Therefore we advise all patients to get help and advice as soon as possible.