Technology is changing the way we access healthcare, and a project with Alberta Health Services is helping lead the way.
The Edmonton Zone Virtual Hospital is an innovative way of delivering healthcare, by enhancing care in the community – right in the homes of patients who have chronic or complex illnesses, and decreasing and event replacing multiple admissions to hospitals and visits to emergency rooms.
A New Way to Provide Care
Instead of physically coming to the hospital site to receive care, patients can receive support conveniently, in the comfort of their homes, over the phone or by video.
Care is integrated across various medical teams, which could include care aides, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, doctors and various other medical specialists. Care and the teams involved are personalized to the patient. All of these resources can be accessed by the patient through one point of contact, making the process of navigating their care easier.
These teams are able to perform numerous tasks, including monitoring patients’ health and symptoms, providing assessments, connecting patients to specialty teams and community providers and coordinating the care, monitoring medications, and educating and providing support to patients and their families to direct their own care.
They even coordinate with community paramedics to visit patients’ homes for scheduled or urgent care requests, to perform assessments, testing and acute treatments.
The program is designed to give care to people who have had multiple hospital admissions or emergency department visits because of chronic or complex medical conditions that involve multiple diseases or conditions, also known as comorbidities.
The program began accepting patients in April 2018. The first two patients admitted into the program, had been admitted to the hospital about eight or nine times over a six month period between the two of them. They also had up to 15 medications, 10 comorbidities, and approximately seven different specialist teams involved in their care.
“I think the concept of the Virtual Hospital came from the fact that we saw a patient population that has this burden of health complexity and care needs, and that our traditional models of care weren’t serving them with the traditional brick and mortar hospital and access to emergency, as well as we thought we could,” said Dr. Gregory Hrynchyshyn, Medical Director Edmonton Zone Virtual Hospital.
“It came from the concept of how could we provide care differently and how could we provide care in a better fashion for this patient population.”
Today, there are about 165 patients treated through the program.
Most recently there’s been even more interest in the Virtual Hospital because of COVID-19 concerns. The service could be used to monitor patients who are suspected of having COVID-19, to see if symptoms develop, as well as to monitor patients as they recover from the illness, with minimal exposure of patients to other people and to other illnesses. It could also benefit patients who are not suspected of having COVID, but who are at a higher risk for contracting it, to limit their exposure.
The Virtual Hospital model could also be useful to patients in remote areas. The University of Alberta Hospital, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and Kaye Edmonton Clinic serve patients from all over western and northern Canada. For rural patients, routine appointments can turn into logistical ordeals that require coordination of transportation and accommodation, further complicated by the health needs of the patients. The Virtual Hospital model could allow these patients to receive the care they need without the additional hassle of physically coming to the care facilities themselves.
Time is a precious gift, especially for those who have serious health concerns. The Edmonton Zone Virtual Hospital allows patients to receive an excellent level of care, while getting back their time, so they can stay at home with family and friends.