Care and compassion bridges distance and space

Patients at St. Joseph’s appreciate powering up and tuning in to connect with their care teams through virtual technologies.

Since the pandemic began, John Hodgkinson has been taking part in group education sessions with others living with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). But not to worry – John is the only person in the room. All are tuning in by phone.

Not only does the 70-year old see no downside to this virtual gathering, he thinks it’s “fabulous.”

“I know COVID-19 will change everything but virtual care is a great way to go – and a great way to use resources more effectively.”

John H

Diagnosed with chronic obstructive lung disease(COPD) about 10 years ago, John also a heart condition. Referred to St. Joseph’s COPD and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program not long before the pandemic struck, he attended two group education sessions in person before non-urgent care was put on hold. Since then, he has had several group education and doctor visits by phone. 

Some COPD patients are also taking part in a group virtual exercise program by WebEx, with the patients and rehab trainers interacting from their own homes and the medical team supervising from St. Joseph’s Hospital to ensure patient safety. 

The group education sessions by phone, says John, are just as informative virtually if not more so, “maybe because it everyone is relaxed,” says John. 

Participants are sent a package by email before the session and follow along a Powerpoint during the session. 

“I have actually learned stuff after being at this for 10 years”, says John, which he attributes to the informality of the session and feeling more comfortable to ask questions. “It was freeing, maybe because it’s more anonymous.”

John is among a growing number of St. Joseph’s patients staying connected to their care teams during the pandemic through virtual technologies. Across the organization, virtual care by programs and clinics has soared from about five per cent of care visits to 50 - 60 per cent of visits. The daily average is currently about 1,000 virtual visits compared to about 200 a day pre-pandemic with much appreciative feedback from patients. 

John’s only suggestion is a WebEx connection rather than phone as he misses seeing people in the group. But this shortcoming “is vastly outweighed” by the benefits of being in the comfort and safety of home. “There was no loss of value.”

He also appreciates avoiding the trek into the hospital, parking, and inconveniencing his wife, who has to drive – an ordeal that would take over his day.  

John is also benefitting from Telehealth - he submits his blood pressure readings, weight and oxygen levels daily to a nurse through a provincial program that has been extended during the pandemic. 

“All of this has kept me out of the emergency department at this time,” says John. “I would like to see virtual care continued big time. It’s very important for people of my age. They stumbled upon something extremely good and efficient. I see nothing but positives.”

For Marie-France Vermette, a daily swim of 140 laps in the pool was helping to keep chronic pain in check. When the world stopped and the pool closed with the pandemic, her pain flared.  

Marie FV

“I was in full blown crisis. For people in chronic pain, with depression, with anxiety -  many things you may rely on to get through the day was taken away with the pandemic.”

A patient of the Pain Management Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Marie-France says her care team didn’t miss a beat. She has been receiving one-on-one therapy with her social worker by phone as well as group education sessions by WebEx led by the social worker and psychologist. Her pain management physician and pharmacist are also in touch by phone. 

While there have been glitches with the group sessions as patients become familiar with the technology, the tech support from St. Joseph’s and the smaller groups taking place by WebEx have been excellent, says Marie-France. She misses the informal peer support and social connections that happen before and after the in-person groups, but overall, she says the sessions have been invaluable. 

“We are all fighting this storm in our little boats, but all our little boats look different. And when we come out of this, all our boats will be weathered differently too. I appreciate that the team ensures everyone in the group is there and feels included.”

In an ideal world, Marie-France would appreciate a combination of in-person and virtual care going forward but can’t say enough about the adaptability of St. Joseph’s during the global emergency. 

“They always take the initiative. When something big happens, it’s all hands on deck. The care and compassion has been outstanding. When I send an email, I get an answer. When I phone, they call me back. I don’t feel the ball has been dropped.”

This story appeared in Issue 02 of My St. Joseph's. Read more inspiring stories from the magazine.

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