Accelerating digital health growth and adoption in response to COVID-19Virtual care · Feb 15, 2021
TELUS Health continues to adapt to the current COVID-19 environment to enable better healthcare outcomes for Canadians. Collaboration is at the heart of success given there are many stakeholders across the care continuum – from health authorities and hospitals to physicians and patients. And while it is complex, TELUS Health works to reduce that complexity to the benefit of everyone involved.
Always one to keep an eye out for emerging technology trends seeking to understand the business and societal impacts, I reached out to TELUS Health’s director of business development and healthcare transformation, Kathryn Seeley. A seasoned executive with extensive knowledge in health technology, Kathryn understands the power that technology holds to shape the future of healthcare in Canada.
With the goal of increasing patient engagement, primary and community care advancement, and greater collaboration across the care continuum, Kathryn and her team work hand-in-hand with local health authorities and decision-makers to deploy and scale innovations that increase system efficiency, enable a more seamless flow of information and empower patients to play an active role in the management of their health. Such collaborative efforts have had significant impacts on communities across Canada, especially with the onset of COVID-19, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Brian: COVID-19 has accelerated the growth and adoption of digital health technologies. What benefits do these technologies bring to Canadians and how is TELUS supporting their upward trajectory?
Kathryn: “Health technology has always been a fast and constantly evolving industry. For many years, we focused on building the infrastructure to support more efficient communication across our healthcare system. Today, and especially in this landscape of rapid change fueled by the global pandemic, we’re seeing a movement towards engaging with Canadians directly. We’re offering them digital health solutions that tie back to existing infrastructure, enabling people to play a more active role in their care. When we talk about “digital health,” we’re referring to all the different tools that allow people to interact with the health system. That includes solutions like electronic personal health records (PHRs) that provide Canadians with greater access to crucial health information such as lab test results and details of their care pathways. In light of COVID-19, these tools have become more important than ever before with virtual care providing massive benefit to both Canadians and their healthcare teams.
According to a report from the Canadian Medical Association, Canadians who connected with their physicians virtually during COVID-19 reported a 91 per cent satisfaction rate, and almost half of the respondents said they would prefer a virtual method as a first point of contact with their physician moving forward. Virtual care not only allowed Canadians to continue receiving the care and support they needed, but it also helped both patients and healthcare professionals stay safe and avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus. At TELUS Health, we believe in the power of technology to improve health outcomes for all Canadians. We’ve delivered tools and services that helped provide complementary care during these challenging times. Necessity has always driven innovation and that ability to adapt to changing needs will continue to push us forward — both our team at TELUS Health and our sector as a whole.”
Brian: You talk about adaptability as a key principle for TELUS Health. In what ways has TELUS Health adapted to support our healthcare system during the pandemic?
Kathryn: “As director of healthcare transformation, I lead a team that is focused on delivering what’s new and next in digital health technology. But we don’t operate in a vacuum — it’s only by keeping our finger on the pulse of today’s issues and intently listening to our partners and frontline professionals that we’re able to develop or improve upon solutions that truly make an impact. For instance, at the onset of COVID-19, we worked with a number of hospitals in Toronto to leverage our Akira by TELUS Health virtual care solution to support the tele-triaging of potential COVID-19 cases in the city. As well, we accelerated the development of a virtual care tool that is seamlessly integrated into TELUS Health electronic medical records (EMR) platforms, empowering 26,000 physicians across the country to conduct secure virtual appointments with their own roster of patients while continuing to follow physical distancing practices. As well, in Alberta and Saskatchewan where TELUS supports each province’s personal health record for its citizens, the PHR’s were rapidly enhanced to share patients’ COVID-19 test results, reducing citizen anxiety and significant volumes on the healthcare system.
One technology we pivoted in a number of ways is our TELUS Health Home Health Monitoring (HHM) solution. Originally used to remotely monitor the condition of British Columbians with chronic illnesses, our HHM solution was adapted to track the symptoms and condition of B.C. residents with COVID-19 as they recovered outside the hospital. In partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Health and local health authorities, we were able to mitigate risks for further transmission of the virus and free up critical hospital resources by enabling clinicians to remotely maintain a line of sight on patient health indicators for COVID “cases and contacts” . The platform presents information for multiple patients simultaneously and effectively triages patients based on their inputs. As the volume of cases increases, clinicians are able to concurrently manage the vitals of a larger number of patients. Current statistics show that ratio to be approximately 1 clinician to a 100-patient panel, depending on the monitoring model used.
The TELUS Health HHM solution is also being used in Saskatchewan to monitor the condition of those who recently received lung transplants, enabling at home recovery and reducing potential exposure for this immunocompromised group. As well, Saskatchewan has recently enabled its community paramedics to monitor patients with chronic conditions using TELUS HHM.
Most recently, TELUS Health teamed up with non-profit corporation, Health City, three Primary Care Networks in Alberta, and other healthcare organizations to use the TELUS Health HHM solution to support residents living with chronic conditions and reduce stress on the healthcare system. Meanwhile, BC’s Island Health Authority is using TELUS HHM to monitor acute care patients recovering in their homes with the hospital staff tracking the patients’ status through TELUS HHM and virtual care tools. Also, Nova Scotia is using TELUS HHM to monitor its COVID 19 patients. To date, TELUS HHM has supported over 10,000 Canadians in 2020.”
Brian: With healthcare today becoming increasingly complex, we know collaboration can help support a better system. How has collaboration played a role in delivering the TELUS Health HHM solution to Canadians?
Kathryn: “The expansion of our virtual care tools such as the TELUS Health HHM solution would not be possible without the collaboration of members of our public health system all across Canada.Working closely with health authorities and partners in B.C., Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, we were able to understand health needs and work to innovate in a way that complements existing public health services. Such collaboration ensures that immediate healthcare issues are addressed, but also helps better prepare for future needs.”
Brian: In your opinion, how else can virtual care and remote monitoring support Canadians?
Kathryn: “COVID-19 has certainly been a catalyst for a lot of change, and has shown us just how much is possible through virtual care. Today, much of virtual care is used to address acute health concerns. It allows patients to receive support when and where they need it. For those in rural and remote areas, this is particularly helpful as virtual care technologies enable them to access care while reducing the time and money spent on travelling distances. Parallel to that, virtual care helps reduce some of the strain on overburdened emergency departments by redirecting non-emergency cases and saving critical hospital resources for those in need or urgent care. Recent studies have shown that people will still want to see their physicians in person once the pandemic has been resolved. What we expect to see in the future is a hybrid of physical and virtual care, a model that leverages the benefits of technology to maintain important contact supplemented by in-person visits that ultimately strengthen patient-physician relationships. With this in mind, virtual care and remote monitoring can play an even greater role in the management of chronic conditions and senior health. The technology can help clinicians track patient wellness and offer support as needed. While remote monitoring solutions like the TELUS Health HHM platform are already supporting some Canadians living with diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension and multimorbidity, as well as those requiring palliative care, the technology can be applied to the management of even more chronic diseases and the overall health of Canadian seniors, many of whom are choosing to age in their own homes. With the efficiency and ease of access offered by virtual care and remote monitoring, these technologies can help manage healthcare spending. The business benefit of digital health technology is to ultimately bend the cost curve and create a more sustainable system that will be around for years to come.”
Brian: As we look to the future, what possibilities do you see for digital health technology?
Kathryn: “At TELUS Health, we’re always on the lookout for ways to scale up technologies and drive a different kind of efficiency for our healthcare system. In my opinion, the future of digital health is bright as we implement the power of new technologies like 5G which will have implications on health system processes and connectivity — from real-time remote monitoring to telerobotics and virtual surgeries. As healthcare needs continue to evolve in Canada, our ability to adapt becomes more important. We are already looking at future investments and initiatives with adaptability in mind — as patient and community needs change, so too do our solutions as we continue to support improved health outcomes.”