A VIRTUAL hospital trial means patients with COVID-19 can be monitored at an Intensive Care Unit level from the comfort of their own homes.
The $1.2 million University of New England (UNE) trial is expected to free up hundreds of hospital beds for critical coronavirus patients in Armidale.
Those diagnosed with COVID-19 will need to isolate, but not all of them are seriously ill enough to need hospitalisation, UNE Dean of Medicine Rod McClure said.
"Australia is starting to use various types of remote monitoring, but nowhere near as sophisticated as this," he said.
"We're very much at the front of the wave, what separates us is continuous, real-time vital signs monitoring on a dashboard."
The primary sign of interest for COVID-19 is oxygen saturation in the blood, the way the technology works is by monitoring that with finger probes and a cuff for blood pressure.
Those are both wired to a box worn around the wrist which can be bluetooth connected to heart and temperature patches, and even the bathroom scales.
It's all part of the Internet of Things, Mr McClure said.
"You can turn your own home into a recording studio of your physiology and wellbeing," he said.
An overnight stay in hospital can cost anywhere from $1500 to $4000. The monitors cost $4500 USD, but are reusable.
The virtual model will allow people to stay home where most feel more comfortable, Hunter New England Health rural and regional executive director Susan Heyman said.
"We haven't had our first patients yet but I think the community will be pleased and embrace this virtual model," she said.
"HNEH has long experience of providing virtual support through telehealth and this is an extension of that."
The virtual hospital monitors will only be available to COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms in conjunction with GP advice.
If patients deteriorate, the monitor will alert the health professional and the patient will be transferred to hospital.
With enough success, the trial could be extended to serve patients throughout the local health district.