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Virtual Health is instrumental in delivering care to B.C. citizens at home during COVID-19

Before March 2020, virtual health visits were a "nice to have" option for having a health care appointment. After March, virtual health became a "must have" as citizens of B.C. were being asked to isolate and stay home.
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By late March, in response to the urgency of COVID-19, clinicians and their patients across the province quickly adapted their appointments from in-person to virtual, and in many cases, they used whatever technical solutions they already had on their mobile phones or desktops. This included Zoom, FaceTime, Skype for Business and more.

Virtual health visits grew exponentially – from 1,300 per week at the beginning of March, to a whopping 14,000+ per week at the end of April (data based on four solutions: Zoom for Healthcare, InTouch, PEXIP and video conferencing). Having access to solutions at their fingertips enabled clinicians to continue doing what they do best: Providing the highest quality of care for people across B.C. 

In this clip from the May 7 PHSA town hall, Kathy Steegstra, Senior Provincial Executive Director, Virtual Health, Trauma Services BC, explains how the PHSA Office of Virtual Health collaborated with provincial partners to identify and deliver Virtual Health solutions that support B.C. clinicians as they continue to provide care to their patients and keep them at home during COVID-19. 

 

How this work has impacted British Columbians

The rate at which virtual health has grown in the past few months has been staggering. But more importantly, patients, clients and clinicians have been seeing many benefits.

In BC Emergency Health Services, all Community Paramedic (CP) in-home visits were suspended mid-March. But CPs leapt into action and started checking in on patients virtually – helping them feel safe, reassured, and even lifting their spirits. CPs have completed over 3,897 virtual health visits since March 23 and brought an additional 424 patients into the program.

The Diabetes in Pregnancy Service at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre offered Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) to all patients in response to COVID-19. 150 patients enrolled – saving each one an average of two in-person visits. With RPM, health records are submitted and monitored remotely, and patients get more timely attention; alerts indicate when they may need help or intervention.

BC Cancer now sees 70 per cent of patients from across the province virtually, up from 8 per cent in 2019 while BC Cancer-Victoria is at 90 per cent. Read more on the increased use of virtual health at BC Cancer in this article.

Trans Care BC added seven providers during COVID-19 and has integrated virtual health into all aspects of service – from pre-surgical assessment to follow-up to voice feminizing training. They’ve done 176 visits, reaching as far north as the Yukon. 

BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services has developed new virtual health protocols and procedures, and is actively deploying virtual health modalities at all of its sites, including Burnaby Centre for Mental Health & Addiction, Heartwood Centre for Women, the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, the Regional Forensic Psychiatry Clinics and Correctional Health Services. BCMHSUS has also provided tablets and flip phones to its three inpatient programs to facilitate visits with family and loved ones, as well as to support participation in online community-based programming. BCMHSUS, in partnership with OVH, continues to support the use of Breaking Free Online, an online substance use relapse prevention application, within PHSA and other interested health authorities.

With video remote interpreting at the Provincial Language Service, providers are able to use existing devices to access on-demand virtual interpreters when seeing patients with language barriers, and they saw a 48 percent increase in sessions from March to April. PLS also created access to interpreters for pre-scheduled virtual appointments. Access to scheduled and on-demand virtual interpreters has ensured equitable access to care for patients and families with limited English proficiency.  

In Nanaimo, Island Health’s MS Clinics have been able to connect more quickly and frequently with their clients through virtual health visits. This helped them reduce their waitlist from over one year to just two weeks! 

What the future looks like

The rapid adjustment to using virtual health can be attributed in large part to two key factors: the attitudes of providers and patients who embraced the new normal, and the collaborative spirit of leaders from provincial health authorities and health care entities. Their immediate response helped to identify and deliver virtual health solutions that support clinicians as they continue to provide care to their patients and keep them at home.

The impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented, on many levels. This is no less true for virtual health, which will continue to play an important role as we navigate our new reality. Our ambition is for virtual health to be mainstreamed into the B.C. health system, making it a standard method of care delivery. 

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.


BC Cancer; Office of Virtual Health
 
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