Making connections: North York General’s innovative approach to care

Virtual visit

On the surface, the formula might seem simple: a patient is admitted to hospital and the goal is to recover or physically improve. But there is also an emotional component for each patient, whether they are fraught with fear and uncertainty, or struggling with feelings of isolation.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting health care settings, hospitals have been forced to adapt to changing conditions and priorities. From ramping down clinic visits to implementing temporary visitor restrictions, North York General Hospital (NYGH) quickly changed its approach to care in order to preserve capacity and resources across its sites.

For most patients, their loved ones cannot visit during the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean connections can’t be made.

“Virtual visits help bring people closer together during this time of uncertainty. This is especially needed at a time when our hospital has instituted a limited family presence policy – a difficult but necessary step to decrease the potential spread of COVID-19,” says Shana Haberman, Patient-and Family-Centred Care Consultant at North York General Hospital.

Shana is part of the Patient Experience and Quality team and is co-leading the Virtual Family Visit initiative across the hospital. The initiative includes coordinating video calls between patients and loved ones using the hospital’s 50 iPads, generously donated by the North York General Foundation.

The video calls help to ease the social isolation patients feel and facilitate meaningful connections with their families and loved ones. We’ve heard from families that it is extremely reassuring to maintain this connection when they cannot visit in person.”

Virtual visits are an example of how North York General has implemented innovative ways to connect people and provide care. On the frontline, changes were made very quickly but behind the scenes, a large interdisciplinary team worked closely to make it all happen – from Clinical Team Managers, to Infection Prevention and Control, to Information Systems.

While virtual visits benefit those staying in hospital, the tool is also being used for visits between patients and physicians, replacing face-to-face appointments with your doctor.

“Before rolling this out we had training sessions with staff and physicians, we completed cyber safety exercises and we looked for ways to utilize the virtual component outside the scope of patient care,” says Amanda Mohamed, Information Services Project Manager.

Patient virtual guidelines were developed by Amanda and the Information Services team to ensure the software is user friendly and secure.

“We reached out to managers to find what their current processes were, what they were doing and where they wanted to go. From there, we were able to create a platform that is now being used across all our sites,” says Amanda. “Technology is evolving. It’s the wave of the future.”

“These examples of innovation translate into excellent patient care. Once we offer virtual visits to patients, their disposition immediately changes,” says Shana. “They light up and smile when they see their loved ones on iPads. The exchange of dialogue, updates and laughter reminds the patient that they are not alone. Family support is critical in a patient’s journey of physical recovery.”

Virtual visits began at the hospital in late March and since then, many patients have booked regular follow-up visits with their loved ones. Hospital staff have also had the pleasure of witnessing many heartwarming moments.

“We’ve seen patients connect with family across different continents, we witnessed a patient sing a ballad to his wife of 50 years, and we’ve helped facilitate a conversation done entirely in sign language. Families are deeply grateful for these opportunities and we’re seeing firsthand how impactful and uplifting these visits are for everyone involved,” adds Shana.

For more information on virtual visits, or to book your virtual family visit, please go to the NYGH website.

Improving care through innovative tools

North York General also developed an online COVID-19 assessment tool in collaboration with other hospitals for Toronto residents. Testing is conducted through a shared hospital lab (between NYGH, Scarborough Health Network, Michael Garron Hospital and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) where together, the group is the first hospital consortium in the Greater Toronto Area to introduce COVID-19 testing. Those tested at NYGH may also access their results online.

This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of The Pulse.

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