British Columbia

Vancouver Coastal Health tests app that could be used for quarantined COVID-19 patients

A mobile text messaging service, successfully used in Kenya to support HIV positive patients, may soon be available to British Columbians where it could be adopted for those self isolating at home to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

Virtual care system designed for newly discharged patients may work for people self-quarantining for COVID-19

Vancouver Coastal Health is launching a pilot study on how the WelTel messaging system can reduce readmission rates among patients newly discharged from hospital. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A mobile text messaging service, successfully used in Kenya to support HIV positive patients, may soon be available to British Columbians where it could be adopted for those self isolating at home to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

Richard Lester, an infectious diseases physician with Vancouver Coastal Health, is leading a pilot project involving Vancouver General Hospital patients to test if the mobile health platform WelTel can reduce readmission rates by monitoring patients newly discharged from hospital.

WelTel is also the name of a Kenyan non-profit organization that provides digital patient care solutions.

Research conducted by the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba in 2010 showed the virtual platform helped AIDS patients adhere to anti-retroviral therapy and suppress viral load below detection levels.

With COVID-19 quickly becoming a global health concern, Lester is working with his partners in Kenya to make the program accessible to self-quarantined people in Canada and other countries. 

"This actually is an ideal opportunity to be able to check in on them by text. We can actually do phone and video as well," the doctor told Stephen Quinn, the  host  of CBC's The Early Edition

Richard Lester is working with his partners in Kenya to make WelTel accessible to people who isolate themselves to prevent COVID-19 transmission. (Maryam AboMoslim)

May reduce re-admissions to hospital

British Columbia has one of the highest readmission rates to hospital in the country — about 10 per cent within 30 days after discharge. Lester said this costly issue is "an indicator of gaps in the health system," and the WelTel platform can help to streamline the triage process and make health care less expensive. 

"The care management team from the hospital ... dedicated a team of nurses and other experts to help to manage ... the 'my discharge plan,' which has normally been in paper form, but patients can lose and forget it. Now, it's all going to be available digitally on their phone as well as the managers to help them navigate that." 

Lester said the virtual care system can cut unnecessary emergency visits by allowing patients to send timely texts to the care management team, which may decide to provide medical solutions in an outpatient setting instead. 

Canadians expect medical tech innovation

About 800 patients from Vancouver General Hospital will participate in the pilot project. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Among the sponsors of WelTel are the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Grand Challenges Canada, a non-profit organization.

As WelTel's founder, Lester said the innovative text messaging solution was first launched in Kenya but not in Canada because of the prevalent cell phone ownership as well as a "less established legacy and bureaucracy to work through" in Africa. 

The physician admits the Canadian health system is often slow to adopt new technology, but he believes things are changing.

"Patients and the public are starting to expect it from their health-care providers and we really need to reform."

The six-month WelTel pilot project aims to enrol about 800 patients at VGH.

To hear the complete interview with Richard Lester on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

Dr. Richard Lester speaks with Stephen Quinn about how emergency rooms can help solve basic problems once patients are released home. 7:10

With files from The Early Edition

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