Of the many tools hospitals
like ours have used to combat the challenges of COVID-19, technology is playing
an important role to deliver services and care.
I think it’s safe to say,
eight months into the pandemic, we all miss traditional face-to-face
interaction. From a healthcare perspective, in-person appointments and
visitation are ideal. But when faced with a novel infectious disease,
especially within an organization that must protect sick or compromised
patients, unconventional solutions quickly become essential.
Prior to the pandemic,
virtual appointments for some outpatient services like our Diabetes Centre (to
name one example), were in their infancy. New, and infrequent, these options
were pursued as a last resort when physicians or specialists weren’t available
in-person, and to save local patients a trip elsewhere. Patients still came to CCH
for appointments, but physicians conducted assessments or follow-up meetings on-screen
or via phone from a remote location.
Driven by necessity to
continue essential patient care during COVID-19, virtual appointments have
quickly evolved into standard practice for some of our services. In fact,
offering video or phone appointments became a saving grace, allowing some
programs to progress safely, uninterrupted, even during the early days of the
You might wonder how virtual
medical appointments can be effective? Notably, not all care can be conducted
in this way, some appointments are impossible to conduct virtually. Services
like diagnostic tests, chemotherapy, transfusion, or hemodialysis require specialized
equipment that only the hospital can provide on-site.
criteria have been developed to identify which programs can suitably proceed
with virtual care delivery models. In these cases, technology has been
established to provide safe and uninterrupted services.
Appointment type (whether
virtual or in-person) is decided on a case-by-case basis. When a patient requires
an appointment at CCH, our physicians and staff first consider whether an in-person
or virtual visit is best suited to the individual’s needs. If a patient is deemed
too high-risk for a telephone or video appointment, then in-person visits are
prioritized, respecting new COVID-19 screening protocols, mask wearing, hand hygiene
and physical distancing in waiting rooms.
Our Community Addiction and Mental
Health programs provide a strong case study for the effectiveness of virtual
appointments. These services had already begun exploring this trend prior to COVID-19,
with 41% of their appointments conducted by phone in 2019. Since the pandemic,
they have continued to adopt virtual appointments at lightning speed.
To make the most of physical
space, the COVID-19 Assessment Centre is housed in a section of the Community Addiction
and Mental Health Centre, requiring further flexibility from our staff. So far,
the percentage of telephone and videoconference appointments has reached 85% of
all appointments for the Centre. A positive observation from staff is that no-shows
or rescheduled appointments have been greatly reduced, thanks to diminished
challenges from transportation issues or childcare arrangements. This, in turn,
allows our staff to help more clients.
from virtual appointments, we have been working hard to develop a framework
guiding inpatient visitation. Our preference, like our community, would be to
provide 24/7 access to visitors with no restrictions, like we do during normal
As health care providers, we recognize and value the role of care
partners/caregivers and visitors in the healing process. Unfortunately, the
realities of living and caring for patients during a pandemic while maintaining
safety for all – including our most vulnerable patients – requires major shifts
in our process, workflows and practice. The foreseeable future will not allow
for visitation to exist as it did before.
At the current moment, our focus is to enable individuals who are
essential to the care of a patient to visit in-person at CCH. For broader family and friends, we continue to offer a virtual inpatient
visitation option, like many hospitals across the province. We know nothing can
replace in-person visitation, and look forward to a day where restrictions may
ease to a level we’d all prefer. For more information about CCH’s virtual
visitation program, please visit: https://www.cornwallhospital.ca/en/VisitingHours
We appreciate your patience during these challenging times, as we learn
to address the current environment with a mix of in-person and virtual
technology to keep our patients, staff and community safe. The north star of
exceptional patient care has not shifted, but our path continues to evolve.
Today and every day, CCH is here for you, no matter the circumstance.
Patient and Family Advisory Committee
Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-866-996-0991 (16 years and up)