Improving patients lives with virtual ward technology

Patients in recovery would rather be at home than in crowded hospital wards; Doccla explains how virtual ward technology makes this possible

Doccla is a virtual hospital, proud to be the fastest growing and leading provider to the NHS of virtual wards in the UK, partnering with hospitals to enable early discharge and reduced readmission across a wide range of patient groups. Its end-to-end solution is device agnostic, integrated with local systems, and delivers data-driven insights. As an accredited healthcare operator, Doccla provides additional clinical capacity – not just technology – to reduce hospital workload. 

Martin Ratz, CEO & Founder, has been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years, primarily in the healthcare industry.

“I’m one of the founders of Doccla along with my colleague and fellow tech entrepreneur, Dag Larsson. Together, we founded Doccla in 2019 with the intention of improving patient experience of hospital care by keeping them out of hospital unless it is absolutely necessary for them to be there.”

As Doccla’s Chief Medical Officer, Greg Edwards’ role involves the medical oversight of Doccla’s remote patient monitoring solutions. 

“One of my previous roles was as Chief Clinical Officer at NHS Digital, where I provided leadership to NHS Pathways and the NHS website, so I have first-hand experience working with our NHS, and continue to do so as Doccla expands, providing virtual wards to more and more NHS Trusts.”

Remote medical monitoring technology

After an unexpected heart attack in 2017, Ratz’s own personal experience of staying in the hospital and the lack of aftercare once being discharged led her to the conclusion that a revolution in the hospital care system was needed. 

“Something needed to be done to use new technology and keep patients away from the hospital,” says Ratz. “Back then, hospitals were using very outdated technology. By using modern technology, it is easy for clinicians to monitor patients at home, which improves patient aftercare and minimises readmissions.”

Ratz and his team created a virtual hospital ward, using remote medical monitoring technology to enable the early discharge of patients from hospitals.

Having completed his training as a General Practitioner in 2007, Edwards later discovered a passion for medical management, taking up leadership roles including Senior Clinical Director at Greenbrook Healthcare and then Chief Clinical Officer at NHS Digital. 

“My continued fascination with the ability of technology to enhance patient care led me to work with Doccla, providing an end-to-end virtual ward service, offering customer service support and clinical capacity,” he says.

Today, Doccla is present in nearly 30% of all Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in the UK, with patient intake from over 20 hospitals. Current clients include a number of NHS trusts across the country – Northampton General Hospital, Cambridgeshire Community Services, Hertfordshire Community Trust, NHS BNSSG Integrated Care Board and Solent NHS Trust.

“Doccla’s virtual ward technology enables the early discharge of patients while remaining under the care of clinicians, thereby minimising NHS costs and workload pressures,” says Ratz. ”To date, Doccla has already saved thousands of bed days for the NHS and for client health trusts, achieving a 29% reduction in emergency admissions and a 20% reduction in A&E attendance.”

The UK is currently suffering from intense pressures and record waiting times for NHS services, as well as ongoing strike action by nurses and ambulance staff. The hospital bed crisis and NHS staff crisis can certainly be improved with the help of virtual ward technology. 

“Delayed discharge puts huge pressure on emergency departments and ambulances,” says Edwards. “Doccla’s solution means that patients can be discharged early while remaining under the care of clinicians, thus reducing the need for patients with long-term or chronic health conditions to visit hospitals in the first place. This reduces patients taking up much-needed hospital beds, freeing up hospital capacity by creating bed space in busy hospitals.”

Furthermore, as an accredited healthcare operator, Doccla provides additional clinical capacity on top of technology to reduce hospital workload, alleviating pressures on frustrated and overworked NHS staff. 

“Doccla has its own full clinical team of specialists who support the NHS with the clinical monitoring,” explains Ratz. “We also offer tech support for any patients unfamiliar with digital tech and how to use it. This further helps to ease the pressure on the trust’s staff.”

Virtual ward technology

Virtual wards were initially set up to treat COVID-19 patients as a coping tool for the many overwhelmed hospitals that had run out of beds.

“Pushed to its limits by the pandemic, the NHS has struggled to recover and is constantly stretched. There is simply not enough bed capacity in the hospitals or enough staff to cope with the numbers of patients,” said Ratz. “Delayed discharges are a major cause of the immense pressure the NHS is facing. Patients who are medically fit enough to be discharged can't be because there are no after-care packages or care home beds available for them.”

“That clinical hub can also send medical staff out to people’s homes to check up on them,” explains Edwards. “Several integrated care systems are launching virtual wards in partnership with Doccla. Patients are provided with a tailormade box of equipment, including smartphones with a large font that is easier to read for those with poor vision.

“Virtual ward monitoring works in a similar way to traditional ward rounds in a hospital, with patients submitting data once or twice a day, which is then reviewed by a clinician. Others who need more acute care can stick a patch on their chest that syncs with the app so their heart rate is constantly monitored. If it goes above or below a certain threshold, the clinician will be alerted.”

Doccla enables patients to recover at home as soon as possible after a hospital stay, ensuring a far better overall experience than lying in a ward surrounded by strangers for days on end. People want to spend as little time in hospital as possible and to avoid hospital visits where they can, particularly as frequent visits and long periods of time spent in hospital can be damaging to the mental and physical health of older patients.

“I believe that virtual wards will become a standard mode of care for the next generation. We are very much driven to make the NHS work better for all involved and keep patients out of hospital,” said Ratz.

Can you share the responses from patients?

One patient benefiting from Doccla’s solutions is Brian Smith, who was admitted to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage after going into cardiac arrest at home. After two weeks in hospital, Brian said he was desperate to return home.

He and his wife were lent equipment to provide him with oxygen at home, and a tablet computer to record his observations.

Mrs Smith said: "Every day they were phoning me and I just never felt alone; I was really supported.

"When he was in hospital it was scary as I didn't know what was going on.

While he was in hospital it was playing with his mind a bit and he was hallucinating; he would've gone crazy in there; he doesn't like hospitals.

"When he came home he was back to himself."

Another example of a patient is Michael Brain, 58, who was treated in intensive care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex for a severe case of Covid-19. As soon as his condition had stabilised, he was sent home with equipment including a phone, a blood pressure monitor and a pulse oximeter to measure his oxygen levels.

“Every day I would input my vital signs on the app,” Brain said. “If anything went wrong or wasn’t right, a nurse would call me straight away. It gave me the peace of mind I was being looked after.”

What do the next 12 months hold for you and the company?

What’s next for Doccla? 

“I believe that virtual wards will become a standard mode of care for the next generation. We are very much driven to make the NHS work better for all involved and keep patients out of hospital,” said Ratz.

In the shorter term, we’re looking forward to expanding to more geographies and adjacent market segments, while further developing our tech stack and increasing our clinical offering. We’ve also set up a team to work with the Life Science sector to develop virtual clinical trials.


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