In 2018/19 Austin Health provided 279,154 outpatient appointments. With the onset of COVID-19, more than 80% of outpatient appointments were transitioned to video consultations (Telehealth). A pilot project starting with just one volunteer was scaled up to offer any patient who requested it support to prepare for their video consultation. This grew to a team of 13 with volunteers being trained to phone patients and provide step-by-step, guided instructions for them to test and set up their device. Volunteers working from home supported 2,492 patients in the six months after the program scaled up.
Volunteers reported the Telehealth support role gave them the opportunity to engage and support patients directly with positive impacts on volunteers’ mental health and sense of value. The Telehealth team developed a guide for volunteers, including a script, and clear step-by-step instructions. Volunteers were given access to the backend of the Telehealth platform to facilitate video calls with patients thus ensuring volunteers were resourced to undertake their role with greatest impact and efficiency.
The volunteer engagement team prioritised the ongoing engagement of volunteers and implemented a multi-layer plan to do so, including monthly email newsletters weekly Zoom catch ups for volunteers to connect, a webinar with the CEO and Infectious Diseases leader sharing information about COVID-19 and Austin Health’s response.
Telehealth has been a success for Austin Health’s patients, and will continue after COVID-19. The volunteer team has been a critical part of the ease at which patients have been able to engage with video consultations, and will continue to be a part of the program into the foreseeable future.