A lab on wheels making home visits is giving vulnerable Tasmanians a busload of medical help during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the driver’s seat is University of Tasmania alumna Kristyn Whitmore (BN ProfHons 2018) who is a nurse, Masters candidate and the coordinator of the innovative study.
New Zealand born; Kristyn arrived in Tasmania seven years ago - making a detour to the UK - before taking up a position at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research.
Kristyn has hit a sweet spot in her career where she gets to provide people with care, but also pursue leading research that is improving lives and could potentially even change the way healthcare is delivered.
Over the past few months, she has driven the ‘biobus’ to Rokeby, Bridgewater, Oatlands and Central Hobart to visit people with heart failure: a lifelong medical condition where the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood around the body effectively.
It’s a condition that can be costly to treat. More than a quarter of patients are readmitted to hospital within 30 days of being discharged.
The biobus was set up as part of a research partnership between the Menzies and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne. It’s aiming to reduce the number of people with heart failure being readmitted to hospital by helping them manage their health at home.
“It’s essentially a lab on wheels, so we can drive to their homes, park outside the front door and they feel safe to come in,” she said.
“A lot of people had signs on their doors saying please don't come and they weren't accessing their own GP because they were too scared to go outside for fear of catching COVID-19. There were even a couple of people that didn’t want to collect their mail from the letterbox because they were worried about the virus.
“The participants have a lower level of health literacy so can’t always critically evaluate public health information.”
Kristyn said the bus had been an excellent way to ensure early access to diagnosis and treatment.
“The bus carries all our equipment. We take lung ultrasounds, blood pressure and weight, and I am able to work with cardiologists at the Royal Hobart Hospital to diagnose and treat the conditions, as well as gathering information for our research project.”
The bus has also acted as a valuable conduit for conversations about how people are coping during the pandemic.
“With the biobus, I was able to sit down and ask them questions like: have you seen your GP? Are you exercising? How are you managing your diabetes? I could dispel myths to ensure they are safe and staying healthy.
“In one case I was able to prevent a person going back to hospital and for another, I helped him find a GP, because he didn’t have one. Often, it’s not just about talking to the research participants, it’s the whole family; giving them the knowledge and power in a way that is accessible and catered to their learning needs.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a research project that will hopefully inform future care, but is actually having an impact now in people's lives.”