Before the pandemic, a few hundred patients in British Columbia were being monitored remotely each year. Using Remote Patient Monitoring, patients are able to track their health data through different biometric devices as well as through questionnaires, and this data is sent electronically to their health-care team. Since April 2018, roughly 20,000 patients have been monitored, and Matthew Varley, a patient at BC Cancer–Victoria, is one of them.
Diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer less than a year ago in December 2020, Matthew began using Remote Patient Monitoring in January and his health data was sent to a monitoring nurse and his care team five days a week. His take on it? Matthew felt empowered.
Matthew with his spouse, Joan
“A lot of people feel helpless when they’re diagnosed with an illness. Instead of everyone doing things for me, the remote monitoring was my way of participating too."
"I was helping myself and also helping the doctor by providing data and information that he used to help me.” – Matthew Varley
The diagnosis came about by chance. Matthew went in for a hearing check up and told his general practitioner he felt like he “didn’t have enough room” in his chest. A subsequent chest x-ray showed a four-inch long tumour on his lung, and the biopsy showed it was a very aggressive cancer. The specialists wanted to treat it immediately. “It was truly a shock to get a cancer diagnosis,” says Matthew.
At age 59, Matthew is in strong physical shape thanks to an active lifestyle and a physically demanding career. Being in good health meant Matthew could withstand aggressive medical treatment. He worked hard to maintain a positive attitude, and received a lot of encouragement from his family and community.
Remote Patient Monitoring connects a patient to their health-care team through technology, and enables providers to conduct data review, interpretation and potential alteration of the patient’s course of care.
Patients who are being monitored at BC Cancer are sent a package with several biometric devices:
- Heart rate monitor (a finger application and clamp)
- Electronic thermometer
The biometric devices included in the package can vary depending on the program. For Matthew, all information from the biometric devices (except for the pedometer and scale) was sent to the tablet electronically through Bluetooth. He also answered a health questionnaire every weekday, and the responses were sent electronically to the monitoring clinician. For Matthew, the process of remote monitoring took 15 to 20 minutes each day.
“I’m not very tech savvy, but I didn’t find this intimidating at all. The tablet made it easy and I became comfortable with the process because I knew what I was being asked.” – Matthew Varley
Nursing staff at BC Cancer reviewed his readings to understand how his treatments were going and to see if exercise was beneficial or hindering. By mid-June, doctors told Matthew he’d made remarkable progress with his treatment.
20 per cent of British Columbians are living with two or more chronic conditions, and many may not seek care when it is necessary. Rural and remote patients rely heavily on expensive travel to access primary and acute services. In winter conditions, travel may be impossible.
Remote Patient Monitoring provides an alternative to travel that may be time consuming and expensive. Data has shown that since the beginning of the pandemic, virtual health has saved B.C. citizens over 800,000 hours in travel time, over 22,000,000 kilometres travelled, and has reduced the carbon footprint of our health-care system by an estimated 8,000 tonnes.
“There are always adjustments in life, whether you get cancer or get a puppy," says Matthew. "I adopted Remote Patient Monitoring as my new program, and when I look at the value of possibly helping someone else, I am even more committed to doing it.”
Digital Health Week runs from November 29 to December 3. The week is an annual celebration of how digital and virtual health is transforming the delivery of care across Canada.