As the COVID-19 pandemic hit B.C. in early 2020, health service providers had to quickly shift gears.
During a Dec. 9 virtual board meeting, Interior Health (IH) officials said they managed to implement three years of planning in a matter of months.
One clinician told IH, “This crisis has forced us to change how we deliver health care more in 20 days than we had in 20 years.”
The health authority had virtual care up and running for physicians a week after the province declared a public health emergency on March 17 and had expanded it to all clinical users within a month. Before the pandemic, and suggestions of social distancing by health officials, IH’s virtual care appointments were around 800 per month. By May, the health authority reached its peak, conducting 6,272 appointments within a month over Zoom — an online video-conferencing application.
“We increased our virtual visit activity by at least an order of magnitude,” said David Sookaveiff, IH’s corporate director of clinical informatics, in a presentation to the board of directors.
That number decreased as health restrictions eased through the summer, but shot back up as cases did through the fall. In November, virtual appointments again neared the 6,000-mark.
By far the greatest use came from mental health and substance use patients, who booked nearly 20,000 appointments since IH expanded its virtual care efforts.
According to the health authority, patient feedback showed that people had largely good experiences with the virtual appointments over Zoom, with 48 per cent saying their experience was very good and 37 per cent saying they had a good experience. A total of 10 per cent said their experience was fair, four per cent said poor and just one per cent said very poor.
The poor ratings, according to IH’s chief information officer Norma Janssen, were largely the result of internet connection issues.
The health authority also connected patients in long-term care, mental health and hospital facilities with physicians and family members by using iPads. The health authority shared some patient feedback with that process.
“Putting my hand to the iPad after six months of not seeing my wife of 50 years in a long-term care facility was the greatest joy I have ever felt since the day I married her,” one patient said.
“It brought real tears of joy and a spark to her wanting to live longer, and improve her quality (of life) at least for that moment. I want to give thanks to that nurse and staff for that moment, and hope others get a chance to have that with their loved ones.”
Interior Health plans to continue to grow its virtual care and in-home patient experiences, with new technologies, more education and improvements to the overall experience.
“That is not something we had prior to COVID,” said Sookaveiff.
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