Home » Respiratory » Online clinics and at-home treatments are supporting patients with COPD and asthma

Dr Karen Mullen

VP, Country Medical Director – UK & Ireland, GSK

Dr Andrea Lever

Head Of Medical Payer Strategy And Solutions, GSK

Times of emergency often breed innovation and adaptation of new technologies. COVID-19 has put enormous strain on health services across the globe. Here in the UK, the NHS has had to make use of new technology and treatments to help patients with respiratory conditions stay away from hospitals and remain in the safety of their own homes

One in five people in the UK develop asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) at some stage in their lives, with half of those people requiring regular treatment or medication.  The current crisis has had differing impacts on those living with respiratory conditions, explains Dr Andrea Lever, GSK’s Head of Medical Payer Strategy and Solutions.

Higher risk patients are asked to shield but they then lose access to face-to-face care

“Respiratory patients with COPD and severe asthma have been asked to shield during the outbreak. That obviously sees them protected but also creates barriers to them receiving care and, for some, receiving medicine. Then there are other respiratory patients who are missing out on their reviews – potentially impacting on the quality of their care long-term.”

The British Medical Association has stated that routine respiratory reviews should continue in cases where patients are having more ‘exacerbations’ – where their condition worsens significantly due to a flare up, sometimes resulting in hospitalisation.

But COVID-19 has made keeping up with demand a far taller task as patients are advised to stay home, and not go into GP practices for their face-to-face consultations. In addition, NICE and professional bodies have advised against non-urgent testing.

Healthcare professionals have had to adapt to what Dr Lever called “a unique situation” – trying to ensure patients are supported safely while also protecting their own safety and ability to remain at work.

Online clinics are replacing face-to-face reviews

Virtual consultations and clinics have started to become commonplace to keep patients connected to care, while minimising risk. This is something that’s required a significant change to how HCPs deliver care, according to GSK’s Country Medical Director (UK & Ireland), Dr Karen Mullen.

“The technology already exists for virtual solutions, but it hadn’t been used on the scale nor brought in at the speed that it is now. Having the right skills, to ask the right questions, and have the right dialogue with patients is key to its success and it requires HCPs to have confidence in those skills.”

Innovative solutions bringing treatment to the patient

Patients – and their caregivers – using medicines in the comfort of their own home is another innovation to help patients continue to isolate.

Some patients with severe asthma would usually visit a specialist clinic in hospital for their treatment to be administered, following a GP referral. These patients incur an obvious risk by attending hospitals where people are being treated for the very virus they are meant to be shielding from.

Prior to the pandemic, 35 centres in the UK offered a homecare service, but that figure has now almost doubled as HCPs strive to meet patients’ needs in the current climate.

Helping patients and the NHS

Organisations, like GSK are helping to alleviate the strain on GP surgeries and the NHS. The use of homecare is supporting shielding patients, helping them to access the care and medication they need most in a safe environment. They are also funding pharmacist-led patient review services and equipping HCPs with training to increase their confidence in conducting virtual clinics.  

GSK recently hosted two webinars on virtual clinics. The content covered key areas specific to respiratory reviews, including how to effectively conduct inhaler technique reviews and support patients with inhaler technique training in a remote setting.

At the beginning and end of each webinar, a poll asked: “From one to five, how confident do you feel in being able to run a high quality remote respiratory consultation?” On average, there was an increase of 44% from the baseline, which demonstrates real value in providing specialist support.

Dr Mullen concluded: “We have expertise in respiratory management, and we want to use that to support HCPs, the NHS and patient organisations, so they can feel confident in providing the best remote support to patients. It’s a time for us all to work together, for the long-term benefits of our patients and our healthcare system.”

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