Earlier this week, Ontario’s health minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, announced that the province is making 1,200 more hospital beds available across Ontario. Of course, news that hospitals can take on more patients is always greeted with enthusiasm. But Monday’s announcement was also aimed at another crucial part of many patients’ care journeys: transitioning back into the community.
Specifically, the new funding will lead to 207 affordable housing units for seniors discharged from hospital and 503 transitional care spaces. It will also enable the reopening of 150 beds at Humber River Hospital’s Finch site and 75 beds at University Health Network’s former Hillcrest site to provide care for patients transitioning out of the hospital.
What does this focus on post-discharge care signify? And will these new beds and spaces make a real impact for patients in transition?
As rates of chronic disease continue to rise, governments are recognizing the need for major changes to the way care is delivered. Our health care systems were designed for acute conditions. But sometimes hospitals are just one part of the solution.
Unfortunately, the transition back home isn’t always an easy one. From poor coordination to limited human resources, there’s no shortage of obstacles that can seriously compromise the quality of home and community care.
It’s a lesson the province has taken to heart. Since 2003, Ontario has doubled its investment in home care. A good chunk of recent funding has gone toward respite care for family caregivers. Family members provide so much of the support that many at-home patients receive. The formal recognition of their contributions is significant in part because it shows that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is ready to examine the unique challenges associated with delivering care at home.
Of course, there are obstacles to improving care in any environment. But one of the surest ways to maintain continuity is to ensure that transitions between care environments are strong. For this reason, this province’s latest announcement represents a major step toward strengthening the system as a whole.
That said, there’s still a long way to go. Additional beds can improve care for those who use them. But what about the day-to-day challenges of the many patients who have recently been discharged from the hospital? Is there a cost-feasible way to offer personal support for all of them?
Recent funding aimed at health care transitions represents a major step in the right direction. There’s no doubt that the extra beds and spaces it provides will have an impact on the Ontarians who use them. Unfortunately, the problems associated with moving from hospital to home impact a much larger number of patients.
Take hospital readmissions, for example. A recent study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reveals that 8.5% of discharged patients are readmitted to hospital within 30 days. Why is this number so high?
One of the reasons is insufficient support. When patients get home, they often feel anxious, confused, and (in some cases) alone. Who should they get in touch with about scheduling home care visits? How can they reach members of their care teams? And given that the details are hard to remember, how can they get their family members up to speed?
Low-cost health care apps can help at-home patients adhere to the lifestyle changes prescribed by their physicians. A videoconferencing app that connects entire circles of care can be especially useful. For a patient, there’s undeniable value in having her family doctor, specialists, nurses, personal support workers (PSWs), family caregivers, and other circle of care members all accessible in the same place.
And because these team members can check in any time, they’re more likely to catch potential issues that could create health complications for the patient—or even send her back to the hospital.
Studies also show that patients frequently don’t understand their post-discharge instructions. Transitioning to a new care environment can be a confusing time. Personalized educational content—such as videos that demonstrate at-home breathing exercises for patients with COPD—will be immensely helpful in the years to come.
In short, funding that makes more post-discharge beds and spaces available for patients transitioning out of hospitals is sure to make a difference. But technology can provide further support for more patients by ensuring they’re set up for success when they get home.
Feature image courtesy of Alex Guibord