Bevan Exemplar and Hywel Dda University Health Board project addresses health inequalities in rural West Wales.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a multi-disciplinary programme of exercise and education for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) patients which traditionally takes place twice a week over a six-week period.
While the programme offers proven health benefits for those living with long-term lung disease, no service currently exists in rural parts of West Wales.
The VIPAR (Virtual Pulmonary Rehabilitation) initiative tackled this issue by using video conferencing, in partnership with technology partners Comcen and Polycom, so that patients in rural Tregaron could participate in real-time in the rehab session led from Glangwlli General Hospital.
Traditionally, patients living in rural West Wales were unable or unwilling to travel up to 50 miles to Carmarthen for the 14 visits required by the pulmonary rehab programme. The VIPAR initiative has saved its patients 9 days of driving and 7,579 miles, as well as providing improved health outcomes.
The COPD Assessment Test (CAT) score has decreased for both hub and spoke sites, and post intervention hospital anxiety and depressions scores have also decreased. Many patients have also been able to take up former hobbies or lifestyle habits, such as horse riding and shopping, as a result of their renewed health and strength.
Those taking part have also reported higher self-confidence and welcomed being part of a support network as a result of the programme. Patients were unfazed by the use of new technology and enjoyed watching their counterparts exercising in different parts of Wales, with one even joking: “We treated it like a competition!”
VIPAR has been shown to be a feasible and safe service, popular with staff and patients, and one which both saves money and reduces environmental impact. This new way of working is successfully addressing the service’s staffing challenges, meeting patients’ needs, and upholding the principles of prudent healthcare pioneered by the Bevan Commission. The aim is to add up to another three spoke sites linking simultaneously to the hub site, creating a Virtual Pulmonary Rehabilitation (VIPAR) network.