FRASER Health is using virtual technology to connect patients to specialized services both in the hospital and in the community.
Using video conferencing technology, the health authority is connecting cardiac patients at Surrey Memorial Hospital and Abbotsford Regional Hospital to electrophysiologists at Royal Columbian Hospital to diagnose and help treat irregular heartbeats or potentially life-threatening arrhythmias. Likewise, video conferencing is connecting mental health patients at Royal Columbian to community mental health teams before they are even discharged from hospital, ensuring better access immediately.
“We have seen how crucial easy and early access to health-care is for patients, particularly those in more rural or remote communities,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “By integrating the newest virtual technology into our health system, we’re ensuring patients can see specialists quickly and have an overall improved care experience.”
“I’m thrilled to see Fraser Health embracing this important service delivery option which will provide more streamlined access to the quality mental health services that patients need and deserve,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “This new technology is already making a positive difference in the lives of people living in rural and remote areas of B.C. Now, tele-mental health will enable patients at Royal Columbian to connect directly to the ongoing support they will need after they leave the hospital and are back in the community.”
Typically, cardiac patients in hospital have to be transferred by ambulance – sometimes escorted by a registered nurse – to Royal Columbian Hospital for a quick 30-minute consultation with an electrophysiologist. The total time for this appointment can take upwards of six hours, and includes the effort to prepare a patient for transport, the transportation itself and the return trip. Instead, cardiac patients can now use video conferencing to have a virtual meeting with a specialist without having to travel, creating a better care experience for the patient and reducing the workload on staff.
“Technology is allowing us to bridge the geographic barriers of the past by connecting patients in one location with specialists in another. By integrating virtual health tools into our clinical operations, we can provide better access to care and a more seamless and timely experience,” said Dr. Stanley Tung, a cardiologist who specializes in cardiac electrophysiology. “Using this technology enables a smooth patient experience regardless of distance, location or time.”
Meanwhile, the psychiatry unit at Royal Columbian is leveraging the same technology to help admitted patients connect to services in the community before they are even discharged. This allows staff in community mental health and substance use offices in New Westminster and Tri-Cities to provide baseline assessments and attend discharge planning meetings.
“A patient that is being discharged from a hospital psychiatry unit may no longer require hospital care, but may remain vulnerable. It is often important to help them connect to services in the community that can support them upon their release,” said Dr. Anson Koo, program medical director of mental health and substance use at Fraser Health. “Care providers can make discharge follow-up plans, such as appointments, and discuss possible barriers to attendance during a virtual meeting. It provides a more consistent process for discharge – one that involves the community mental health providers earlier in the patient’s stay and facilitates communication between care providers.”
This project to assist admitted patients connect with mental health services in the community before they are discharged is considered a foundational piece of work within Fraser Health. Its concepts utilizing video conferencing are in the process of being expanded to other hospitals and community mental health centres in the region.
Fraser Health is also actively researching other virtual health options to find ways to improve patient care or solve clinical problems.