The Royal Hospital for Women (RHW) is part of South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD). Since its beginnings in 1820, it has become one of Australia’s well known specialist hospitals for women and babies. Around 4,000 babies are born at the RHW annually, with the majority of the women attending the hospital accessing their pregnancy care through the antenatal outpatients clinic.
Women planning to give birth at the RHW as a public patient will attend a first hospital booking visit with a midwife. At this appointment, which ideally takes place at 14–16 weeks gestation, a comprehensive history is taken. This includes indepth discussions about the women’s general health, medical and obstetric history and psychosocial wellbeing. Traditionally, this first antenatal appointment takes place in person in the antenatal outpatients clinic and typically lasts an hour and a half to two hours.
Given the hospital visitor restrictions initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic, partners were no longer able to attend the antenatal appointment. To overcome this, the antenatal team at the RHW agreed that the first appointment could be completed virtually. The myVirtualCare platform was used to support the booking visit. This also aligned to statewide recommendations at the time.
Even prior to COVID-19, the length of the first antenatal appointment meant it could be challenging for women to attend in person. Attendance often involved the pregnant woman taking a whole day off work or needing additional childcare support to attend the appointment. Appointments after the initial appointment are conducted in person as physical examinations such as blood pressure, checking the size of the baby and listening to the fetal heart rate are necessary.
When COVID-19 visitor restrictions have eased, initial antenatal appointments will still be offered via myVirtualCare as a routine choice for women. This is because there has been such a positive client and clinician response to virtual appointments.
This report focuses on how the RHW implemented virtual care for initial antenatal appointments. Virtual modalities have also been used for other the RHW special services including gestational diabetes education sessions; next birth after caesarean group discussions; and information sessions for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds where a midwife, cross-cultural worker and interpreter are involved.
Download Virtual Care: Delivering antenatal booking appointments virtually - PDF