Virtual cardiac care

Videoconferencing has quickly become a regular part of many of our lives ever since COVID-19 made physical distancing a top priority. Healthcare is no different, as hospitals and doctors’ offices shifted to telemedicine as a way to manage patient care during the pandemic. While the concept gained prominence in 2020, virtual consultations have been around for years and have shown some promising benefits at Royal Columbian Hospital with a group of cardiac patients.

“Towards the end of February, I suddenly had a lot of trouble breathing,” recalls Jennifer Newman of Langley. “It turned out I had atrial fibrillation. I was admitted to Langley Hospital.”

As a cardiac hub, Royal Columbian sees patients from throughout Fraser Health who require treatment or consultations. Typically, patients like Jennifer would be temporarily transferred to Royal Columbian for a quick cardiac consult to discuss treatment options. This could require transportation, a nurse escort, a bed, and a wait that sometimes lasts hours.

Instead, Jennifer was able to connect with Royal Columbian’s experts directly from Langley by videoconference.

“I talked to a surgeon and a nurse together at Royal Columbian, and I had my nurse with me during the interview to help explain afterwards anything that I wanted a bit more about,” says Jennifer.

Since the program started in 2017 as a first of its kind in BC, Cardiac Network Clinical Nurse Specialist Clare Koning says cardiac virtual consults have shown a number of benefits.

“It’s saved a lot of money and time,” she explains. “For the patient, we’ve seen a 50% reduction in time to consultation, which is great.”

A cost analysis performed at the start of the program indicated that on average each virtual consultation results in a saving of $5,894 to the health system when compared to an in-person consult. Over two years, they have estimated total savings of more than $800,000.

The vast majority of these consults have involved electrophysiology, which treats conditions like atrial fibrillation. But the virtual program is now starting to include a small number of cardiac surgery consults too.

And after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, Fraser Health quickly moved to a virtual platform for its cardiac rehabilitation classes.

“I think we need more incorporation of technology in healthcare in a safe and meaningful way,” says Clare. “Fraser Health is really leading the way in this, creating a model that others can adopt.”

For Jennifer, who received a pacemaker to treat her heart condition, the benefits of virtual consults are clear.

“For something like a 15 minute interview, I think that it saves everyone’s time, just to be able to sit down and talk face-to-face but not physically, to not have to make that journey all the way into New Westminster, for me it was a big deal.”

Hospital Team