Kitchener-Waterloo

Virtual care could soon be part of retirement and LTC homes in Waterloo-Wellington

Virtual care could soon be implemented in long term car and retirement homes in Waterloo-Wellington thanks to a project out of St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph.

Virtual care piloted in 10 retirement homes and 10 long-term care homes over next 3 months

Teams at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph are working to bring virtual care to long term care and retirement homes in Waterloo-Wellington. (TippaPatt/Shutterstock)

Virtual care could soon be coming to some long term care and retirement homes in Waterloo region and Wellington County.

Organizers hope that long term care (LTC) and retirement homes in the area can implement virtual care technology later this year, after a three-month pilot is completed at some facilities.

The pilot project comes from the Nurse-Led Outreach Team (NLOT) and Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO) programs out of St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph.

Virtual care would help people in the homes get care more quickly and reduce unnecessary trips to the emergency room, according to Carrie Heer, a nurse practitioner and clinical lead of the outreach team.

"It supports the care within [a resident's] setting, and it also reduces the risks associated with transporting to hospital, such as infection, unfamiliar environment, delirium and the clinical stress that it puts on the resident," she said.

It would also allow physicians and nurses to deliver care to more patients as the technology would eliminate the need to travel from facility to facility.

Heer said the project will first be piloted at 10 long-term care and 10 retirement homes in Waterloo region and Wellington County over the next three months. 

During that time, teams will look at potential barriers to virtual care and gather information on the home's experience with the technology.

Audrey Devitt, who oversees the behavioural supports program, said she was surprised that many residents were open to the idea.

"With technology, we tend to indicate that the younger generation may be more comfortable than the older generation, but the older generation are becoming more competent with technology as well," she said.

Long-term, organizers hope the project will become a hybrid system, allowing people to have access to both in-person and virtual care. 

COVID-19 presented opportunity

Heer and  Devitt said COVID-19 presented an opportunity for virtual care to take place at LTC and retirement homes.

"The infection prevention and control measure necessary now to contain and prevent the virus in LTC and retirement homes has really resulted in the reduction of the number of people coming in and going from the home," Devitt said.

She said virtual care also benefits family members, who often have to take time off work or arrange for childcare to support their loved one.

Devitt said family members will be able to link into the system and be present at their loved one's virtual appointment from the comfort of their own home.

Once the pilot is completed by late fall, Devitt and Heer said they are confident the technology can be implemented in a timely manner to other homes outside the pilot.

"We are better prepared as we approach the anticipated second wave along side the influenza season," Heer said.

"We will be alongside these homes to continue to support the ongoing [project] and outside the study, we are always open to supporting additional homes."

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