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Virtual health visits: building connection between clinicians and patients

“My patients were very happy just to be literally seen instead of being limited to a phone call,” says Tessa Diaczun, pediatric nurse practitioner at BC Children’s Hospital.
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​Tessa Diaczun, pediatric nurse practitioner in complex care program and Child & Youth Primary Care Clinic at BC Children’s Hospital

Patients already share a great deal of their lives with their health-care providers. Tessa Diaczun, a pediatric nurse practitioner in the complex care program as well as the Child & Youth Primary Care Clinic at BC Children’s Hospital, has seen patients in their home environment during virtual health visits and believes it changes the way she cares for them.

She finds that this can provide further insight into what may or may not work for them and their families which was not always available to her as a practitioner previously.

“It’s a privilege to see inside a family’s home,” explains Tessa. “People compose themselves differently when they visit the hospital. There were a few key things they let me in on that I might not have been aware of had I seen them another way.”

More options for providers

Not every appointment qualifies for a virtual health visit but, when used appropriately, Tessa has seen its ability to enhance patient care by providing a view into their home life. As a nurse practitioner, Tessa has used multiple virtual health modalities in the past such as telehealth and instant messaging services.

“I was able to observe the parents and extended family and siblings in the background – some came right to the screen to visit,” says Tessa. This gave her the opportunity to see how the child was positioned while resting and supported at home, which is often vastly different than what she would see when they would come into the clinic in their wheelchair after a two-hour drive to the hospital. The experience of working with families virtually and seeing them at home has changed the provider-patient relationship for Tessa. It gives her a new perspective on what courses of treatment might be suited to their individual lifestyles and how she could best support them.

“Seeing them at home, you just get this very different sense of the child,” she says. “I was able to fully appreciate families at home with all the distractions going on and all of the beautiful things too, like the view out the window that the child had. I felt that I had a different connection with the family.”

Patient perspectives

On the other side of the screen, 79 per cent of BC Children’s patients and families who participated in a survey after their virtual health appointments reported a positive experience. 92 per cent would recommend virtual care to others in the future.

Inclusivity in virtual health is measured as well. 98 per cent of surveyed patients felt their cultural beliefs were considered in their care and 94 per cent felt their language needs were considered. Virtual care includes remote interpreters for a variety of language needs including American Sign Language. 

Making care simpler

“I have had several positive experiences, some challenging ones too, but a general comment is that families have been so pleased to be able to receive care without having to come to Children’s Hospital. For many, getting there can be challenging,” says Tessa. 

This can be for a number of reasons, such as preventing the spread of COVID-19, but scheduling appointments outside the home and then organizing the logistics of transporting a family and any complex medical equipment to the hospital can also be very difficult. Families are also faced with having to take time off work, arrange transportation and pay for parking when they come to the hospital.

“A handful of families don’t want virtual health visits in the form of videoconferences and prefer a phone call,” notes Tessa, “but being able to provide that service has been excellent for many of our patients." 

"They’ve been very happy to just be literally seen by me instead of being limited to a phone call,” says Tessa.
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