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Celebrating the Office of Virtual Health's PHSA+ Award

In March 2020, most aspects of life changed. The Office of Virtual Health rose to the challenge. Virtual health became necessary for safely delivering health care to British Columbians and the team was recognized for their work with a PHSA+ Award.
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Congratulations to the Office of Virtual Health (OVH) team on their PHSA+ Award!​​​​​

PHSA established the OVH in 2017 after an assessment of the state of British Columbia’s health care the preceding year. The OVH built a patient-centred care model focused on connecting patients, families and providers through the use of technology to optimize wellness, specialty care and outcomes.

During COVID-19, virtual health became necessary for safely delivering health care to B.C. citizens. The very first weekend restrictions were put in place for B.C., Nicholas Milton, a coordinator and Zoom administrator, joined the OVH.

"In that period of uncertainty, virtual health curbed that feeling of isolation for both providers and patients,” says Nicholas. “I'm glad I was part of something so necessary and compassionate."
The OVH collaborated closely with B.C. health authorities, health organizations and the B.C. Ministry of Health to lead the virtual health response to COVID-19 with the focus of quickly providing virtual health solutions. These ensured that patient care across the province would continue during the pandemic. Usage jumped from approximately 1,300 virtual health visits per week in February 2020 to over 20,000 per week in December 2020. The number of patients whose health was being monitored remotely grew from 1,500 in May to over 14,000.

Virtual health has kept British Columbians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by maintaining access to health services without having to visit a clinical setting. Early data show that virtual health has also contributed to positive patient and provider experiences and ensured that continuity of care yields positive health outcomes.

Successful partnerships

To support the increased demand for virtual health services and solutions, the OVH team collaborated with key groups across PHSA programs, digital health or Information Management/Information Technology Services (IMITS), and with all established partners across the province. Building positive relationships with administrative and clinical staff within PHSA programs ensured the team was aligned with the programs and served the needs of clinicians and their patients. 

“There was an unbelievable amount of change and system innovation,” said Emily Hamilton, director of partnerships and system enablers at OVH. “It is incredible how much we can accomplish in a short amount of time when we are all working towards the same goal.”

Notable projects from the OVH and their partners this year include:

  • The development of a provincial virtual health toolkit​ in collaboration with their virtual health partners across the province over th​e course of just a few days. The toolkit identified solutions which were rapidly endorsed by both the B.C. Ministry of Health and PHSA. Solutions were made available immediately and easily for virtual health visits, remote patient monitoring and clinical digital messaging. Vendors offered licences for free during COVID-19 to help with the pandemic response. Resources and training for solutions were created and shared with all health authorities. They were published on the OVH website​ for everyone to access and continue to be refined and updated. 
  • Zoom for Healthcare was quickly identified as a solution to conduct virtual health visits. Prior to launching Zoom for Healthcare, technical infrastructure needed to be upgraded. In this case, a process that normally takes several weeks was accomplished by the IMITS team in a few days. From March to December 2020, the OVH issued over 24,000 Zoom for Healthcare licences to health-care providers. 
  • A new collaboration with B.C. Cancer-Victoria enables cancer patients receiving chemo​​​​therapy and radiation therapy for head and neck or lung cancer to be monitored at home. This is being expanded to other treatments and other regions. 
  • The OVH also collaborated with Provincial Language Services and B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to create an app for paramedics to use on iPhones in ambulances. The app enables paramedics to connect patients who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing with live American Sign Language interpreters. This technology in ambulances is the first of its kind in Canada.
  • The OVH also worked with PHSA clinical programs to help them innovate and improve their workflows while using unfamiliar virtual health solutions during the pandemic to explore new ways of providing care. 

Like any successful initiative, it was the activity behind the scenes that made these achievements possible. All members of the OVH team have been flexible and responsive. Their hard work and collaboration with their partners, as well as one another, has been crucial to ensuring B.C. citizens have access to virtual health.​

​On the horizon

Going forward, the OVH plans to widen the breadth of many of its current projects. The following updates concern just a few of their ongoing projects:

  • Planned expansion for the Video Remote Interpreter project across three clinical areas within Vancouver Coastal Health, two clinical areas in Fraser Health and all patient care delivery areas in PHSA
  • Exploring how clinical practice is affected by providing services virtually and providing support
  • Gathering requirements for clinical digital messaging to help improve how our PHSA clinical program areas communicate with their patients
  • Supporting post-COVID recovery clinics in exploring how services could be provided virtually to people experiencing long term symptoms of COVID-19
  • Finding new solutions to support the ongoing clinical needs to continue to innovate and transform how care is provided in B.C.
“The OVH has worked tirelessly through 2020 and into 2021,” says Kathy Steegstra,​ chief virtual health officer. “Their dedication and commitment to ensuring we can support clinicians, the health system and keep B.C. citizens safe at home makes me incredibly proud. Each individual’s contributions have been critical to our overall achievements and I am confident in our work as we move forward as a team.”
It is safe to say that there will be many more new and innovative projects coming from the OVH in the future. Their assistance to PHSA staff leveraging new technology-based solutions helps provide the best possible care for patients. 

​Join us in congratulating the OVH for their hard work this year.

About the PHSA+ Awards program
The PHSA+ Awards are part of an internal recognition program that celebrates teams and individuals who bring our PHSA values to life in the workplace. They go above and beyond to serve patients and families across B.C. Read about the other PHSA+ award recipients for 2021.

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