Telephone and video appointments weren’t options when Kara Langdon was a patient at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) nearly three years ago. Then along came COVID-19.
Virtual care – including medical appointments by phone or video conferencing — has skyrocketed at HHS since last March. “We’ve seen a 1,500 per cent increase in the use of virtual care since the pandemic,” says Langdon, who as well as being a former patient is the hospital’s virtual care manager.
“Virtual care is here to stay.”
“It provides another option for patients and healthcare providers, so together they can decide on the best care path for the patient. My team’s goal is to support HHS by developing a standard approach for what best practice should look like to help us get to a place where virtual care is seamlessly integrated into the services we provide.”
Langdon’s role, and the virtual care operations team she leads, were created last fall as temporary positions in response to the surge in virtual care due to the pandemic and to expand and strengthen previous work done. “We want to get to a place where healthcare providers and patients work hand-in-hand to find the best care pathway for the patient, which may include connecting virtually as part of their care,” says Langdon. Prior to taking on this role, the nine-year HHS employee worked in various positions, including organizational development.
Life before COVID-19
“When I was a patient, there were times when I visited the hospital three to four times a week for appointments,” says Langdon, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 and treated at the Juravinski Cancer Centre.
“I know from my own experience how much virtual care could have helped me in my cancer journey.”
“Of course, in-person visits are necessary for such things as treatments and lab work, but other appointments could have happened by phone or video if those choices had been available and appropriate for the purpose of my visit.”
Feedback from patients who have experienced virtual care since COVID-19 has been largely positive. Many appreciate being able to meet with their healthcare providers remotely for certain appointments, from the comfort of their own homes. They’re grateful not to have to travel to the hospital for certain appointments and save time and money.
Other forms of virtual care include at-home monitoring, where patients receive technology to bring home following hospital stays or surgery, and are monitored by healthcare providers remotely.
“Epic” future for virtual care
A large portion of the virtual care team’s work will involve supporting the implementation of HHS’ new Epic hospital information system (HIS) for managing healthcare data including the collection, storage, management and transmission of patients’ electronic medical records. The Epic platform is considered among the best systems in the world and is used internationally by many top-ranked hospitals and medical schools. With Epic, all patient health information will be stored electronically and securely in one place. Project Odyssey is the name of the two-year process for putting Epic in place.
“Our team will play a collaborative role in helping to build and include virtual care within Epic as part of Project Odyssey,” says Langdon, who will be co-chairing the digital virtual health workgroup for the new HIS implementation.
“The future is exciting, as options like virtual visits, remote home monitoring, electronic referrals and e-consults become established parts of our healthcare system. As both a staff member and former patient, I’m very excited to see HHS move in this direction, supported by a world-class HIS.”