Island Health is expanding its Home Health Monitoring service to include patients recovering from COVID-19 at home or those that are close contacts of someone who had the virus.
Under BC CDC guidelines, these patients are expected to have daily phone calls from clinicians to review symptoms and monitor health.
“It was really important that we be responsive,” said Lisa Saffarek, the clinical director for virtual care at Island Health.
“I was seeing some of the really high numbers in the Lower Mainland as COVID-19 started to land in B.C. and a nurse could take up to an hour to do that daily review with someone. We know we didn’t have the capacity to do that if our numbers got up to the hundreds.”
Island Health, in partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Health and TELUS Health, have expanded the program – typically used for patients with chronic diseases – as the number of mild to moderate COVID-19 cases continues to rise. These are cases where patients aren’t sick enough to require hospital care, but still need to be monitored in case they develop symptoms or have symptoms that get worse.
“It enables health-care workers to do the job of following the patients but without the physical contact or proximity,” explained Luc Vilandre, president of TELUS Health and Payment Solutions, noting this will keep clinicians safe from contracting the virus so they can continue to save lives and help others.
It also increases efficiency, as one nurse is able to support 40 people remotely.
The COVID-19 health monitoring program is simple. Patients that have been recommended by Public Health will be contacted by a nurse. They’ll receive an email with a link that invites them to download the app and from there, patients will complete a daily monitoring plan, answering questions and recording any symptoms.
“That monitoring data lets the nurse know how you’re doing and they’ll phone or call you with support if they’re concerned about the information that you’ve sent,” said Saffarek.
If patients develop symptoms, they’re moved into another remote monitoring program, called intensive home monitoring.
“There, we’re worried about people’s oxygen levels, fevers and such, and we’re asking them to report their data multiple times a day,” Saffarek explained.
By checking in on these patients several times a day, the hope is to save as many lives as possible by making sure no one falls through the cracks.
COVID-19 can be unpredictable, Saffarek said, and someone’s health can change very quickly.
This was the case for Richmond care-home worker, Warlito Valdez, who died from COVID-19 earlier this month after being exposed to the virus at work. Valdez was staying inside, isolating himself from his family when he died. His story is just one of many that inspired Saffarek to put this plan into action.
“There was the really heartbreaking story of the dad at home who passed away within 24 hours. We don’t know how the virus is going to impact each and every person,” she explained.
“And how does someone at home know when they need to seek health, when things are actually worsening and when they should be going to the emergency department?”
Those are the health-care gaps Saffarek is hoping to fill with this remote health monitoring service.
About 400 COVID-19 cases have already benefited from the program, with 39 of those being in the Vancouver Island region.