Teams at Sunny Hill Health Centre at BC Children's Hospital see children from all over British Columbia either on site or through outreach. Before COVID-19, Sunny Hill staff were already beginning to incorporate digital tools like telehealth and videoconferencing into their practice. Such tools are especially useful in supporting patients with lengthy travel to clinics residing in distant communities such as Prince Rupert or Fort St. John.
The onset of COVID-19 accelerated the need for Virtual Health technology within Sunny Hill as providers, clinicians and staff rushed to find workarounds to pandemic measures.
Services within Sunny Hill include everything from tone management, therapeutic recreation, positioning and mobility, to hearing loss, visual impairment and developmental coordination disorders. Patients range in age from newborn to young adult and require treatment for complex medical, physical and developmental needs. Sunny Hill patients often need extra support for managing life at home and in their communities.
Many Sunny Hill clinicians and therapists approach their cases with the long-term goal of helping patients and families adapt rehabilitation and care to their day-to-day lives. This requires a close relationship between clinician and family. Navigating this work while keeping families safe from COVID-19 added a new layer of challenges, but also some surprising gains thanks to Virtual Health.
Leeann Taylor, program manager for the Acute Rehabilitation inpatient unit at Sunny Hill, has seen how virtual meetings support cohesiveness among family units and care teams.
“Patients are assigned to a full care team meeting each week for half an hour, which can be difficult for both parents or guardians to attend,” said Leeann. “One usually needs to look after the patient’s siblings or remain at the office. By way of video conference, we’ve noticed both family members become more involved as they can make it to more meetings together remotely while juggling their regular responsibilities.”
“In terms of outpatient visits, it often takes time for our care staff to coordinate offsite appointments,” added Leeann. “Being able to see patients where they live gives insight into how they’re managing at home and allows clinicians to offer tips for improving their quality of life. When visits can happen virtually, it expedites the process and these important consultations can be done sooner. For the purpose of supporting at-home visits, I can see us continuing to use virtual tools in the future.”
Within the BC Autism Assessment Network at Sunny Hill, Program Manager Tracy Conley has seen Virtual Health enhance connectedness with families.
“Clinicians are actually spending more time with families by staying linked virtually. For patients undergoing autism assessments, while we can’t complete their full diagnoses without the in-person piece, clinicians have continued to interview families over Zoom maintaining the connection and assuring parents their case isn’t forgotten but being actively worked on.”
“For some cases involving youth, we’re finding patients are actually quite comfortable and responding well to Virtual Health technology because it’s already part of their lifestyle and how they connect with their friends. In fact, they’re even more adept than the clinicians at times.”
Tracy remarked that technical ability is sometimes a hurdle. “For most staff, when a glitch happens like the video screen freezing, they can troubleshoot and find a solution, but it’s been a part of the learning curve for our team.”
Nevertheless, Sunny Hill staff are proving their capacity to be flexible and adapt to new technology. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) as part of the assistive technology team have recently begun implementing tests traditionally done on paper to an online method representing a significant practice change. Additionally, SLPs were able to leverage Zoom as an alternative means to hold intervention workshops for children with complex communication needs.
Other Virtual Health wins for Sunny Hill include the successful rescheduling of 82 face-to-face Tone Management appointments held either by Zoom or by phone. The Sunny Hill Feeding and Nutrition team went as far as developing take-home handouts to assist families in preparing for virtual feeding assessments with instructions on camera positioning and environmental setup.
Across Sunny Hill, countless other examples of clinicians, physicians and case managers going the extra mile to make Virtual Health work demonstrate their commitment to finding the right solutions for patients. While nothing is more personable than face-to-face appointments, staff continue to raise the bar to reach their typical standard of “high touch” care with the help of Virtual Health.
Part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, Sunny Hill Health Centre at BC Children's Hospital provides specialized development and rehabilitation services for children, youth and their families. As of August 30, 2020, it will be co-located with other BC Children's Hospital programs on Oak Street in Vancouver. For more information, visit bcchildrens.ca
The Office of Virtual Health leads and provides strategic direction for the overall Virtual Health initiative across PHSA. For more information, please visit the OVH webpage
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