COVID-19 Heart Heart Failure Infectious Diseases Virtual Health

Helping patients recover virtually during COVID-19

Dr. Ignaszewski , Cardiologist and Physician-in-Chief at Providence Health Care, has been visiting with patients virtually during COVID-19.

During the month of March, Bruce Blair was near death due to severe heart failure. He and his wife, Connie, traveled from Kamloops to St. Paul’s where Bruce was admitted and placed on ECMO. ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) was used for short-term purposes — supporting circulation and infusing oxygen into the blood and removing carbon dioxide.

Shortly after being on ECMO, Bruce underwent surgery for a more durable mechanical heart pump (LVAD – left ventricular assist device). Flash forward a few weeks and Bruce was transferred to Holy Family Hospital for rehabilitation after he was noted to be severely deconditioned as a result of his heart failure. He had to be readmitted with a hematoma in his left leg. The hematoma, localized bleeding outside of blood vessels, was a result from the removal of an arterial line in his groin which was inserted in Kamloops and removed at St. Paul’s prior to the LVAD surgery.

Bruce and his wife Connie remained at Holy Family for six weeks, receiving rehabilitative care and treatment from a dedicated team of medical staff. However, due to COVID, cross-facility visits were not an option for his rehab, so the team adapted to virtual health.

Bruce participated in his rehab activities via Zoom, a platform that provides video conferencing.

“The appointments were personal and high-quality. We were able to ask questions face to face versus having to make a phone call,” says Connie, “During these difficult times of COVID, the team at Providence Health Care made the process very easy — the experience was greatly appreciated.”

Dr. Andy Ignaszewski, Cardiologist and Physician-in-Chief at Providence Health Care, says that from a physician’s perspective, having privacy-compliant virtual health tools such as Zoom has provided the opportunity for patients and residents to get the reliable care they need during this difficult time.

“We have multiple platforms that fit the needs of our patients and residents. With these, we are able to contact the patients and provide a sense of familiarity during a time that can be stressful or anxiety- provoking to many,” says Dr. Ignaszewski.

However, Dr. Ignaszewski states that in ideal circumstances, seeing a patient in-person first is almost always best, especially for the first time visit when the therapeutic patient-doctor relationship is struck. But with situations such as COVID, health care providers must adapt and use other available platforms. Access to virtual health tools has enabled physicians and other health care team members to maintain a clinical connection with their patients. Dr. Ignaszewski did note that doctors are realizing patients may be visual learners or an auditory learner so it is important to identify this and make sure care is delivered in the most appropriate way for the individual patient.

Dr. Ignaszewski says, “We are seeing an influx in usage of the 811 number due to COVID. It is clear that our patients would like to talk to someone. With virtual health, we can provide a more in-person feel from the comfort of their home. Also, it can save the patient, the physician, and the medical system time and financial resources.”

In Bruce’s case, he and his wife were able to get the care they needed while at Holy Family through virtual visits. Now back home in Kamloops, Bruce is able to check in with medical staff in Vancouver while he recovers and has recently started cardiac rehabilitation though the virtual Healthy Heart Program.

Dr. Ignaszewski states, “It is an interesting time in virtual health — COVID demonstrated that to us. We will begin to see an expansion in virtual healthcare. Specifically, we will see more frequent specialty care with consultations online. Also, the idea of home monitoring devices — enabling physicians to access and download patients’ data over the computer before appointments.”

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