Health care providers and patients adopt technology during pandemic

This spring, Dr. Raed Azer, a family physician in New Waterford, Cape Breton, adopted an innovative approach to continue to safely provide care to his patients during the worldwide pandemic.

In response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the provincial Public Health directives (e.g. social distancing),  Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) Virtual Care team set health care providers up with Zoom for Healthcare, a secure virtual care platform

Zoom for Healthcare allows NSHA, IWK and community health providers to treat patients virtually where possible in an effort to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19.

Dr. Azer is among more than 3,200 health care providers (physicians, nurse practitioners, allied health professionals and staff) that began using Zoom for Healthcare to deliver care to their patients and clients during the pandemic. 

Remote patient care is a new experience for Dr. Azer and his patients. 

Currently, he is seeing approximately six patients each week virtually and he hopes that this will grow over time. 

“I owe it to my patients to use this [technology]. I can’t treat my patients today with technology and information from a decade ago. If you go back a decade, it was a novelty to have an EMR (electronic medical record), now using paper is the rarity and soon using technology that supports remote patient care will become the norm. It is my responsibility to use the latest technology that is available to support my patients,” said Dr. Azer. 

Virtual care has been available in Nova Scotia since 1998 and in recent years has been expanded from facility-based equipment (e.g. Telehealth Units) to desktop software and today includes the following video conferencing technologies for NSHA and IWK providers.

Between 2018/19 and 2019/20, virtual clinical appointments increased by 55 per cent. 

In early 2020, Zoom for Healthcare was added to the list of virtual care technology offerings. 

Since the pandemic began, the adoption of virtual technology in Nova Scotia has increased by 568 per cent. 

In the month of April alone, there were approximately 10,500 Zoom meetings across the province. The majority were patient appointments, but some providers are also using Zoom for Healthcare for peer consultations.

“My patients love it,” said, Dr. Azer. 

“I recently did a virtual visit with an elderly lady and she was so happy to speak with me and I was happy to see that she was doing well.” 

Another one of Dr. Azer’s patients, Barbara MacDonald from River Ryan, , said  her experience with the technology is  “like he [Dr. Azer] is right here in my living room.” 

She further added “the technology was never a barrier and worked really well. You don’t have to get on the road or wait in the office. I encourage other patients to give it a try…there is no commitment.”
 
Both Dr. Azer and MacDonald indicated that this a very economical solution for patients and families as it reduces travel costs, patients don’t have to pay for gas or parking. 

If they don’t have a vehicle, they don’t have to pay for a bus or taxi or rely on someone to transport them to the appointment. 

“Virtual care reduces anxiety,” said Dr. Azer. “Instead of having to bring someone into the office, I can see them via Zoom. It is amazing how it makes a difference. Another issue is winter, if the weather is bad, I don’t want to bring an elderly patient into the office and risk a fall or fracture and a potential hospital stay that could be months in length. Remote technology can’t completely replace in-person visits, but it can lower the number of times that a patient has to travel to the clinic.”

The pandemic has provided Nova Scotia with an opportunity to look at how the delivery of care can differ and perhaps better meet the needs of patients and families. 

“It is amazing what can be accomplished in a very short time when everyone comes together to achieve a common goal. Our virtual care team as well as our business productivity services colleagues worked tirelessly to train providers, develop resources for providers and patients and support thousands of health care providers to begin using virtual care technology over a six-week period of time. I am so grateful to our staff and to the providers that have embraced this technology,” said Cathy Cruz, manager of NSHA’s Information Management & Technology Virtual Care team. “I hope that we can continue the momentum that we have achieved with virtual care during this crisis.”

For more information, visit the Virtual Care website.