Expanded virtual care helps more patients receive care at home

by Osler Staff | Jun 30, 2020

Patient using a device for a virtual chat with their physician

The Smart phones, tablets and computers many of us use to connect with family and friends are also being used to deliver safe, confidential virtual care to Osler patients in the comfort of their homes. Virtual care isn’t new to Osler, but since the pandemic began, Osler has expanded its virtual care offering and is now available in more than 20 outpatient clinics and services.

“Virtual care helps reduce the need for some patients to come to the hospital or visit a clinic while ensuring they can confidently continue to maintain their health at home,” said Jane de Lacy, Associate Vice President, Clinical Operations. “In today’s environment, we’re trying to make access to health care providers easier, safer and more convenient, particularly for the most vulnerable of the patients who rely on us for care.”

Patients who choose to take part in virtual care receive secure, timely access to quality health care services through the virtual tool that works best for them, whether that’s by phone, mobile device or computer via secure video call platforms such as the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN).

A patient’s ability to participate in the program or individual virtual care sessions varies depending on a number of factors, including a patient’s individual preference to participate in virtual care, and the type of care the patient may need at a particular point in their health care journey.

“Virtual care visits are very similar to in-person visits,” said Anne-Marie Graham, Director, Cardiovascular and Chronic Disease. “Through a simple phone call or video call the health care provider may discuss a patient’s current health status and progress, and can answer any questions they have about their care or condition.”

For Osler’s outpatient Mental Health Program, the shift to virtual care became vital when non-urgent/elective outpatient services temporarily closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Stepped Care model which the Mental Health and Addictions Program uses is based predominantly on group sessions. Through the program’s four-step approach, patients’ needs are matched with the level of service they receive, reserving the most intense, resource-rich services for patients with the most complex needs. This means the majority of patients attend group therapy sessions, while those with the greatest level of need receive one-on-one therapy.

The team had to quickly rethink how services could be delivered to help ensure the needs of outpatients with mental illness could still be met. This is no small feat for one of the largest Mental Health and Addictions community hospital programs in the province.

“Because we couldn’t bring people into the building, especially in groups, we had to move swiftly to provide our patients with other options to participate in group sessions with the mental health team,” said Faiza Khalid-Khan, Director of Mental Health and Addictions. “It’s also a great way to improve access to people who are working or where distance is an issue in terms of travel.”

Program staff rolled-up their sleeves and enthusiastically began training to deliver care in a new way. The virtual sessions were well received among patients.

“Our staff was very eager to start providing care virtually. They practiced in groups with each other so they could get used to the technology while we were working on designing a new virtual format that would serve patients just as well as the in-person sessions,” said Faiza. “I’ve been quite pleased to see how well patients are responding to this program. They like the format of the virtual groups and are grateful that we are providing the same level of service as we were prior to the pandemic. We’ve also found that attendance rates are high and patients continue to be very engaged in the group therapy process in this new virtual platform.”

Learn more about virtual care at Osler.