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Tele-homecare gives chronic care patients support

Izabella KoganNEWMARKET, Ont. – Nearly 50 percent of all Canadians live with a chronic health condition, often requiring frequent monitoring and in many cases, repeat hospital admissions. Beeton resident Iris Foster is one of these Canadians who is now living life more confidently thanks to Southlake Regional Health Centre’s Tele-homecare program, which provides support to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure.

Launched in the fall of 2013, the Tele-homecare program provides patients with the care, monitoring and education they need to self-manage their conditions from the comfort of their home.  Using simple equipment, such as a weigh scale and oxygen monitor, patients check their vital signs daily, including blood pressure, weight, heart rate and oxygen saturation levels.

This information is then transmitted wirelessly to a team of specially trained nurses and respiratory therapists at Southlake who look for trends and health indicators that could be cause for concern. The information is then shared with the patient’s physician, allowing for early intervention to avoid unnecessary hospital admission.

In addition to the daily monitoring, the Tele-homecare team connects with patients by phone on a weekly basis to promote healthy behaviours and empower them to take control of their conditions.

About 89 percent of Ontarians over the age of 65 have at least one chronic condition. The economic impact of chronic disease is estimated to be 55 percent of total direct and indirect healthcare costs, and the burden of chronic disease is growing. In 2011, only about 14.8 percent of our population was over 65. By 2036, it is expected that seniors will comprise 25 percent of our population.

Piloted by the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) in 2007, Tele-homecare began rolling out across Ontario last year. Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and Canada Health Infoway, OTN designed the program, provides infrastructure and trains the nurses and respiratory therapists who monitor patient results and provide health coaching.

Data from one of the early adopters of Tele-homecare indicates a reduction of 43 percent in Emergency Room visits and 71 percent in in-patient admissions by shifting the focus from acute care to preventative care and self-management of chronic disease.

Foster was the first patient to enroll in the Tele-homecare program through Southlake. Managing multiple chronic conditions, including COPD, heart failure and diabetes, she was visiting her primary care physician up to twice a week prior to registering in the program. Today, with the help of Tele-homecare, Foster is getting the support she needs to manage her health at home. Down to just one appointment every six weeks and with no emergency room visits since her enrollment in Tele-homecare, she is gaining back her independence and with it, her confidence.

“Every morning before I do anything else, I turn my computer on to Tele-homecare,” she says. “I weigh myself, check my blood pressure, do the oxygen count and answer the questions.”

This is a huge improvement for Foster, who one year ago was too ill to even walk into her doctor’s office without the support of oxygen. Her husband Wayne has been her primary caregiver for 13 years and couldn’t be more grateful for the support Tele-homecare has given him in caring for his wife.

“Tele-homecare has given me peace of mind as a caregiver knowing that somebody has my back,” he said.” I have confidence that if there’s a problem, there’s somebody else watching, and somebody I can turn to if I have questions.”

Dr. Izabella Kogan (pictured), a member of the Alliston Family Health Team and Foster’s primary care physician, believes that Tele-homecare is the way of the future.

“Community and primary care will work together as an extended team,” she says, “available for the patient on a daily basis and providing an alternative to hospital visits.”

Supported by the Central Local Health Integration Network, the Tele-homecare program at Southlake is available free of charge for a six-month enrollment period to residents in the catchment areas of Southlake and Stevenson Memorial Hospital including Newmarket, Aurora, Georgina, Bradford West Gwillimbury, East Gwillimbury, and New Tecumseth.

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