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Community Paramedicine uses Virtual Health to keep patients at home


In late March, the BCEHS Community Paramedicine (CP) program shifted to virtual visits – and discovered some added benefits for patients along the way.
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BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has always been there for British Columbians, no matter where they live across this vast province – and during a pandemic is no exception.

The Community Paramedicine (CP) team provides in-home visits and community outreach for those with chronic and complex diseases, including seniors with COPD, heart failure and diabetes. Their patients may also be at risk of falls or require palliative care. And their work spans 99 communities across BC – from Atlin in the north to Zeballos on the island. By focusing on rural and remote areas, CP supports communities that are sometimes underserved.

“For some patients, we are the only contact,” says Jessica Wurst, CP, Fraser Lake – a scenic village surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains in northern BC.

When regularly scheduled visits were suspended in mid-March due to COVID-19, the CP team leapt into action. They already had a strong understanding of virtual visits because they’d been helping patients connect with their physicians virtually since 2019. By introducing additional ways to communicate, they could continue serving those who counted on them. Enter virtual health: Patients are connected to caregivers by phone, Zoom, FaceTime or via Home Health Monitoring.

“Even though we cannot support them in person, we have the ability to check in and make sure they have everything they need,” says Jessica. “We are able to reassure them that everything possible is being done to keep them safe.” 
From March 23 to May 6, the CP team completed almost 4,000 virtual visits. They also brought an additional 424 patients into the program since March, bringing the total number of actively monitored patients from 916 to 1,341. Home Health Monitoring also continues to be used to support 179 patients.

The team has realized some additional benefits they can provide for their patients during this time.

“We have noticed that the needs have somewhat shifted,” says Cathy Scott, CP, Fraser Lake. “Our visits used to be more focused on the physical health, but it is mental health support that most people seem to be needing at this time. During virtual check-ins, patients sometimes sound depressed (or have a) low mood, but by the end of our conversations, their spirits usually have lifted and they remember that there is a lot to be thankful for.”

For Lindsay Van Genne, CP, Princeton, virtual health still allows them to provide much-needed care – especially when patients can typically be hesitant to voice questions or concerns.

“As we are connecting with patients, we routinely hear they don’t want to be a bother or are afraid to seek help,” says Lindsay. “Fortunately, when I connected with a client the other day, I was able to assess them over the phone and determine they needed immediate help. An ambulance was dispatched and they were transported to the local hospital for care. They have since been discharged and their family was very thankful that a need for care was recognized quickly.”

The CP team’s immediate embrace of virtual health solutions means vulnerable patients in rural areas continue to receive the care they need so they can stay safe at home. For more information about virtual health solutions that are immediately accessible, please visit the COVID-19 Virtual Health toolkit on the Office of Virtual Health website.

BCEHS is responsible for the delivery and governance of pre-hospital emergency medical care and inter-facility patient transfer services through the BC Ambulance Service and BC Patient Transfer Services. BCEHS is supported by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). For more information, please visit www.bcehs.ca.

The Office of Virtual Health leads and provides strategic direction for the overall Virtual Health initiative across PHSA. For more information, please visit the OVH webpage or send an email to officeofvirtualhealth@phsa.ca.

 
 
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