From November 13-18, it’s Digital Health Week—a time for Canadians to celebrate progress in digital healthcare technology.
Canada Health InfoWay has joined organizations across the country to create and promote events exploring this important subject. Healthcare professionals, sector leaders, and digital health supporters are also encouraged to get involved online.
At Aetonix, we know that digital technology can lead to massive time and cost savings within the healthcare system. This innovation can help service providers run more efficiently—and make things easier for workers on the frontlines.
But ultimately, improving the system is about creating better health outcomes and quality of life for those who receive care. That’s why we’re most interested in hearing directly from patients.
In honour of Digital Health Week, we’ve been exploring a patient video series presented by Canada Health InfoWay. We’re sharing four of our favourite picks in this post. Through these videos, you’ll hear directly from people whose lives have been changed by digital health innovation.
1) Judith’s Story
To say that cancer can be physically and emotionally overwhelming would be an understatement. Many patients want an immediate understanding of their treatments and how their bodies are responding. Others don’t. This InfoWay video looks at Judith’s story.
It was important for Judith to access her health information—when she was ready. In the meantime, her family members needed to stay in the loop. By providing on-demand access to Judith’s health records online, digital technology met her needs—and the needs of her family.
For providers, going digital is about more than increasing efficiency. It’s about ensuring that patients as well as family caregivers (and other trusted relatives) have secure access to all relevant information—on their own terms.
2) Cheryl’s Story
Cheryl was used to repeating the medical history of her daughter, who has special needs, every time they visited a new clinic. It was a struggle to remember to bring copies of all potentially-relevant documents to appointments. Overall, the process was draining.
In this InfoWay video, Cheryl describes how electronic health records (EHRs) have helped her navigate the health care system. In the past, pieces of her daughter’s medical history were stored in the files of many different practitioners. But things have changed, thanks to digital documentation. “[N]ow, all of her history and story is in one concise document,” says Cheryl.
With digital technology, a patient’s entire care team can securely share information relevant to her care. When all medical information and health updates are available in one easily-accessible place, it’s easier for providers to do their jobs. And greater efficiency means better care and less stress for patients—and their families.
3) Heather’s Story
Living in rural and remote places can come with unique healthcare challenges. Heather wanted the best treatment for her son’s burn, but there were no pediatric plastic surgeons in her Northern community.
Traveling to see a specialist was unavoidable. But thanks to telehealth technology, much of the follow-up care Heather’s son required was provided remotely. Communicating through video was different than simply using the telephone. “I feel like it is face-to-face, because you’re talking in real-time,” says Heather.
Many patients have no choice but to travel to receive the care they need. But most would prefer to be at home when possible. Telehealth solutions make it easy for patients who reside outside of city centres to stay in touch with the right practitioners.
4) Denise’s Story
After the death of her son, Denise found online support from other mothers who had experienced grief. Digital health tools also helped by reminding her to engage in self-care activities.
Digital technology allows patients, caregivers, and those coping with illness or loss to reach out for support. Whether it’s an app that connects circle of care members or a digital forum that offers grief support, a digital tool can provide the comfort of human connection.
A growing number of apps offer reminders (related to medication, as just one example), remote health monitoring, appointment scheduling support, and more. These convenient digital tools have the potential to improve the health and overall wellbeing of people around the world.
Since then, the Assembly of First Nations, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the province of Saskatchewan have all followed suit. From a healthcare perspective, this declaration is significant.
Indigenous people in Canada face unique obstacles when it comes to receiving adequate care. For those living with disabilities, navigating the system can be especially complex. Recognizing existing challenges is the first step toward finding solutions.
The organizations above are dedicated to positive change. They remind us to take stock of how our healthcare systems are serving Indigenous people with disabilities—and how they can improve. Here are a few things we should all consider this November.
1) Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to have a disability
European contact and ongoing systemic issues have far-reaching impacts on Indigenous populations. Education, housing, and income levels are all effected—and they’re major contributors to existing disparities in health status.
Many chronic diseases, like diabetes, are more prevalent among people of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit descent. But there’s less awareness around the prevalence of diabetes.
According to the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Diabetes Society (BCANDS), the Indigenous population of Canada has a disability rate that’s twice that of the general population.
Healthcare policymakers should carefully consider this alarming figure.
2) Disabled Indigenous people face unique obstacles in the health care system
Historical injustice continues to impact the lives of Indigenous people across Canada. But it’s not just the past that’s an issue.
One major finding is that little is known about the lives of women with disabilities in the North. Another is that there’s no common understanding of disability in Northern communities.
Regardless of environment, one thing we do know is that 26% of women living in poverty have a disability, and 36% of Indigenous women live in poverty. These issues are often connected in complex ways, and how they play out in the healthcare system can have a serious impact on quality of care.
Looking at this information, it’s clear that policymakers should be devoting a good deal of focus to the experiences of Indigenous women living with disabilities. Listening to their voices will help leaders create a better, more inclusive healthcare system.
There are many qualities that distinguish high-quality patient care. It should be responsive, timely, and carefully coordinated (to name a few). We’d also put “safe” high up on the list. The truth is, we take it for granted that patients are safe—whether they’re being cared for in a hospital, long term care facility, or at home. But safety in healthcare isn’t a given. It takes dedication.
Patient Safety Week takes place from October 30 to November 3. In a recent statement, Health Canada explained that this annual campaign reaches out to “those receiving care, current and future healthcare professionals, decision makers, patients, clients, and their families.” With this in mind, we at Aetonix have rounded up four of our best posts that look at patient safety. The topics addressed here will be of interest to those working in the healthcare sector—as well as care recipients and their loved ones.
We hope you’ll read on. And remember to keep the conversation going—this week, and throughout the year.
This post, published in October of 2016, looked at the value of using wearable safety devices in long term care facilities. We decided to look at this issue in response to a trend that’s taking place across the United States.
Essentially, American nursing homes are phasing out the use of alarms to alert staff of potential falls. While they’re meant to protect residents, there’s a growing body of evidence that these safety precautions startle residents. As a result, they’re often more hazardous than helpful.
Wearable devices—such as lightweight alert bracelets—have many safety advantages. These include more peaceful facilities (where at-risk residents are less likely to encounter stress) and staff members that are more proactive (since they’re no longer relying on alarms).
This Patient Safety Week, we encourage management in Canada’s long term care facilities to think carefully about fall prevention.
Speaking of falls, this post from August 2016 delves into what makes a good fall prevention plan. In Canada, half of older adults in long term care facilities fall each year. As a result, the subject deserves a good deal of consideration this Patient Safety Week.
From our perspective, fall prevention should involve all staff that interacts with residents. It should also be facility-specific and (when possible) data-driven.
If you’re a manager, staying abreast of research on geriatric falls can provide insights that inform an effective prevention plan. So too can keeping an eye on environmental factors within your own care home—and recording the circumstances of any falls that occur in order to identify potential trends.
In it’s recent statement about Patient Safety Week, Health Canada encourages patients to think about their prescriptions. As a precaution, the organization advises patients to ask healthcare providers five questions regarding their medications.
It’s no wonder Health Canada is raising awareness around this issue. Alarmingly, one in five older adults is admitted to a hospital because of medication. Asking providers the right questions can go a long way toward preventing this serious consequence.
At Aetonix, we believe that loved ones can play an important role in medication management—especially for home care patients. Staying informed is key, which is why it often makes sense for trusted family members to connect with a patient’s circle of care—including doctors and pharmacists. For more tips, check out the post.
A post we published in December of 2016 looks at professional caregiver burnout in the home care sector. You may be aware that burnout can create major health hazards for those who experience it. But did you know that the phenomenon can also compromise patient safety?
Caregivers experiencing burnout may have difficulties performing their duties due to fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and poor quality sleep (to name a few issues). In its later stages, the condition can cause feelings of apathy, which also have the potential to create serious repercussions regarding quality of care.
As part of patient safety week, we hope that everyone involved in caregiving will review the signs of burnout. Increasing awareness—and reducing stigma—is key to ensuring that caregivers and patients are safe.
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?
Another major step forward
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?
Further support for patients in transition
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.
Is your aging parent dealing with worsening health, mobility, or cognitive issues? If the answer is yes, it’s natural to be worried. And if your mom or dad lives alone, then your worry probably takes up a good deal of mental energy.
Today, many older adults who face aging-related challenges are choosing to continue living independently. There’s a term for this phenomenon: aging in place.
Of course, it’s important to watch for signs that your parent who’s aging in place is no longer coping. But a move to assisted living isn’t always the best solution. Comfort, safety, and dignity are important to us all. It may be that a few lifestyle or environmental modifications will allow your parent to continue maintaining this balance at home.
That said, there are bound to be challenges. In this post, we’ll look at four areas of difficulty your loved one is likely to encounter—and what you can do to help.
1) Completing activities of daily living
Eating, bathing, toileting—most of us engage in these activities, commonly referred to as the activities of daily living (ADLs), without incident. But for many older adults who are aging in place, the difficulties they pose are significant.
From compromised mobility to poor eyesight, there are a whole host of physical challenges that can get in the way of basic self care activities.
In many cases, tweaks to a living environment can make all the difference. Kitchen appliances can be set out in ways that reduce physical strain. For example, keeping a microwave at or below counter height can make bending and reaching less stressful on the body.
Bathrooms can be remodeled to make bathing simpler for those with mobility issues. Lever controls are easier to use than knob-shaped faucets, and portable shower chairs are good for those who have difficulty standing for long periods of time.
2) Avoiding falls
For many older adults, completing the activities of daily life—or simply moving around the house—comes with safety risks. Falls are one of the most worrisome, since they can lead to head injuries, hip fractures, and many other serious or debilitating injuries.
We’ve already discussed ways to make bathing more comfortable, but it’s also important to recognize the hazards it can pose. Walk-in bathtubs can make bathing much safer and less stressful.
Of course, bathrooms aren’t the only places where falls can occur. Luckily, a few modifications—such as removing scatter rugs and ensuring adequate lighting—can make every room in your parent’s home safer.
Technology can also provide peace of mind—for you as well as your mom or dad. Fall detection systems save lives, and they don’t have to be obtrusive. A lightweight bracelet that senses falls is a good option for those at risk, whatever their activity levels may be.
3) Accessing transportation
Aging in place allows older adults to remain where they’re most comfortable—in their homes. That said, getting out of the house is an important part of living independently. Often, it’s an absolute necessity.
Maybe you can’t always be there to drive your mom to the grocery store. Perhaps your dad’s medical appointments conflict frequently with your work schedule. In these situations, how can you ensure that your parent is able to get around safely?
Fortunately, there are affordable transportation options for older adults in cities across Ontario.
Many vehicles can accommodate wheel chairs, walkers, and other equipment, and escorts are often permitted to come along.
4) Social isolation
One of the most unrecognized problems among older adults who are aging in place is social isolation. If you live too far away from your parent to visit regularly, you may be worried about whether they’re engaging in enough (or any) social contact. If the answer to this question is no, your concern is warranted.
It goes without saying that increasing in-person contact is best. If regular visits from loved ones aren’t realistic, you might consider asking a friendly neighbor to check in every now and then.
In many cases, mobile technology can also help. The right videoconferencing app can connect you and your parent face-to-face—at any time. You can also rest easy knowing that your mom and dad can get in touch with you whenever they need to.
Of course, many older adults are reluctant to reach out. The reasons for this hesitation can range from the fear of being a burden to mobility challenges that make operating a phone difficult.
Downloading an app on a tablet for your parent demonstrates your desire to keep in touch and encourages them to make the call. And with the right app, calling you will be is as easy and intuitive as tapping a picture on a tablet screen.
Next, take some time to consider how best to be there for your loved one. Appropriate support will look slightly different in every family. But there’s some advice that holds true for everybody.
In this post, we’ll look at a few basic ways to make things easier for yourself—and the one you love.
Every piece of advice you read about placing a loved one in long-term care will tell you to ask questions. In the early days, talking to management and staff can help put your mind at ease.
But you’re involvement doesn’t end after the first day, week, or month. You have the right to know how your spouse or parent is being cared for on an ongoing basis.
You may also want to ask questions related to your loved one’s mental state. What has she been asking for? Is there anything that she’s been talking about a lot? In many cases, the answers will enable you to provide better support.
Perhaps your mother has expressed a preference for the lemon-scented laundry detergent she used at home. If you’re in a position to do her laundry some of the time, this would be good information for you to have.
Maybe your husband, who has dementia, has been asking about his deceased sister. Bringing in a trinket that belonged to her might calm him.
Staff members do their best to provide caring and supportive environments. That’s a good thing, because they’re likely the people who interact with your loved one most. That said, they don’t know her as well as you do.
A behavioural observation that means little to an on-duty nurse could provide you with the insight you seek. But you may never know until you ask the right questions.
Whether you you speak to the caregivers at your family member’s long-term care home in person or via communication technology, it pays to stay connected.
Stay in touch
You want to be there for your loved one whenever you can. But over time, contact can become less frequent.
There are many reasons this can happen. Geographic distance can make planning visits tricky. Outside responsibilities—such as work and other relationships—might get in the way. And in some cases, recurring conversations that are stressful or counter productive can act as a deterrent.
If distance is an issue, technology can help. Mobile apps make it easy to initiate a face-to-face chat with your loved one—anytime, and from anywhere. Well-designed apps are highly intuitive, so those with cognitive issues, mobility limitations, or low levels of technology comprehension can use them.
Imagine how much your loved one could benefit from seeing your smiling face when he feels lonely or confused. With the right app, he’ll find that reaching out is as simple as tapping your picture on a tablet screen.
When it comes to visits, remember that quality is often more important than quantity. While it can be comforting for your loved one to know that he can reach out to you when he needs to, he may not need to see you as often as you think.
Planning can help you make the most of your time together. For example, you may want to ask staff what time of day your family member might have the most energy for a visit.
Lastly, if your loved one has complaints, listen to them. It can be tempting to downplay frustration and try to put a positive spin on negative comments. But make sure your family member feels heard.
The sooner you address any issues that might prevent your visits—or make them awkward—the sooner you can start truly connecting with your family member.
Understand and process your emotions
It’s a cliché for a reason: when you’re strong, you’re in the best possible position to help someone else. This is certainly true when you’re supporting a family member in long-term care.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of caregiver burnout. Essentially, burnout is a state of complete exhaustion that may be accompanied by feelings of apathy. Someone who cares for an ill loved one around the clock is a prime candidate.
When you’re family member is in long-term care, you’re unlikely to suffer from burnout. But other feelings may emerge. And they can get in the way of the support you’d like to offer.
When you stressed, it’s difficult to help a parent stay calm. When you’re heartbroken, it’s hard to reassure your spouse that everything’s going to be okay. And when you’re plagued by guilt, it can be difficult to share your best self with your loved one.
Sometimes, grief also appears. Watching someone you care about undergo sudden behavioural changes can be a shock. In some cases, the change is so drastic that family members are left grieving the person they used to spend time with.