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Virtual Health Care: The Future Of Telemedicine

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As a long-time advocate for telemedicine as a tool to improve access to care, quality of care and the sustainability of health care systems, Dr. Edward Brown, CEO of the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), believes the future of medicine is really here. But it's just one piece of the puzzle.

As the co-chair of the Digital Home Conference at HealthAchieve, Dr. Brown will look at the integration of virtual care into the home and its impact on overall health and well-being across the care continuum. Here is a snapshot from Dr. Brown of some of the aspects that will be discussed amongst health professionals from across North America.

What is virtual care and why does it matter?

We're in the process of integrating technology to create a more patient-centred health care model in a way that supports better care. A critical part of that process is engaging patients and providers in virtual care. Understanding how virtual care will solve problems, and to embrace new ideas as opportunities is key to improving patient care.

But implementation requires change, and change is difficult because it's not just dependent upon the technology. In order to make headway people will be asked to do things differently and to take on different roles. They will work with different sets of people. Sometimes, it will empower some and disempower others, and unfortunately those aren't always easy adjustments to make.

How can we create this change?

Change also needs to be addressed in our policies. Right now, we're fitting a square peg in a round hole as our current financial business models were developed long before virtual health care was a reality, so funding is a challenge. But government is moving to change and is undertaking bundled care. My hope is that virtual care will become part of that bundled care planning.

What opportunities are there for virtual care Canada now?

OTN has a long history of helping to improve access to specialist care in rural areas. Over the past few years we've also been looking at the following big problems and working with partners to address them:

• Chronic disease: We need to engage patients in their own care, and we now have amazing solutions that support and track patient health.
• Access: We have the electronic means to support patient access to primary care anywhere.
• Continuity of care: When patients are discharged home from the hospital, there's an abyss when it comes to information and collaboration. This often results in re-admissions.
• Complex care/palliative care: We have trouble navigating the system when it comes to complex care. Technology can bring teams together and enhance outcomes.
• Mental health: There is a shortage of service providers and an access problem when it comes to mental health. Technological solutions can provide an online social network and access to mental health courses and supports.

What success have you seen at OTN to date?

OTN's Telehomecare program has resulted in an approximately 50 per cent reduction in hospitalizations and ER visits. This program (funded by the government of Ontario and Canada Health Infoway), which we operate in collaboration with 11 Local Health Integration Networks across the province, provides simple, in-home monitoring equipment that patients with heart failure or COPD use to send off their vital signs by tablet to a nurse who tracks their condition at a distance.

The technology is supportive; when you add it to the individualized health coaching the nurse provides weekly to the patient by phone, you get a complete strategy that helps patients live life to the fullest in their homes.

HealthAchieve's Digital Home Conference is an exciting opportunity to look at innovation, but also an important chance to explore the value of virtual care and the ways we can integrate it seamlessly into our models of care to streamline and improve the care we deliver to our patients.

Warren DiClemente, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President, Educational Services, Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). The OHA's signature conference and exhibition, HealthAchieve will run Nov. 7 to 9, 2016 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Sections of this blog also appeared in Canadian Healthcare Technology

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