Length of stay, re-admittance down at Western Hospital during pilot project

The data collected so far on a pilot project called telerounding has shown some encouraging results for patients who see physicians through a mobile video-conferencing cart.

Physicians and patients are seeing encouraging results in the telerounding pilot project

Two nurses demonstrate how telerounding works at Western Hospital. (Brittany Spencer/CBC )

A six-month pilot project at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., has some physicians seeing great success.

Since August, patients admitted to the hospital who don't have a family doctor have been visited by a doctor using technology called telerounding.

A cart with a monitor moves from patient to patient, along with hospital staff for video conferencing consultations.

The doctor has remote access to all the patient's files and can order any diagnostic testing needed.

The virtual doctor can do most of what an in-person physician can — with the help of support staff. 

The six-month pilot is half-way through and so far there have been about 1,200 consults with almost 60 patients presenting with a variety of conditions.

"I don't think we could have hoped for a better outcome at this stage," said Dr. Brett Belchetz, Maple CEO and emergency room physician in Toronto.

Dr. Brett Belchetz says he didn't think they could have hoped for a better outcome at this stage. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Belchetz said there are a few main things the company and Heath PEI look at in measuring that success — the first being length of stay.

"When length of stay goes up, it means fewer people can go through the hospital," he said.

"Our length of stay is actually down compared to what we were seeing in this hospital before this pilot came on. So we were hoping for it to be at least as good, but we're actually seeing better numbers."

Re-admittance down

The second indicator of success, Belchetz said, is re-admittance numbers — if and how long after discharge a patient comes back with the same issue. Those numbers have also been lower since the project began.

"That's a key indicator of — is the care good. So when you're discharging people, are you discharging them safely, are they actually better," he said.

Another piece of the puzzle is how staff and patients feel about the program.

Patient and staff reaction to pilot program

Health PEI says after some slight technical hiccups, staff have gotten on board and patients seem to be doing well.

"There have been no bad outcomes or major incidents that we are aware of. The patients overall, despite a little initial hesitation, have been quite accepting of the new system," said Dr. Wassim Salamoun, the medical director for P.E.I. West.

"This is not the perfect solution for long-term problems, again this is a bridging solution for an issue where the physicians on-site, in-person have not been able or we have not had the manpower to cover the inpatient care for a period of time."

Dr. Wassim Salamoun says they will continue to gather data on the pilot project to see whether it would be worth expanding. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Over the next three months, Maple will continue to improve the technology and try new things. The company is still trying to figure out a price point for the technology.

Belchetz said the fee would be close to staffing an in-person physician plus a small software fee, but the company wants to keeps costs low. 

At the end of the project in February, Health PEI will do a thorough review and decide if they will continue to use the program for bridging staff shortages.

Health PEI has recruited two physicians for the western region. One will begin in O'Leary in early 2019 and the other will be starting a new practice in Alberton next spring.

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