Taking Advantage of Digital Technology With Your Patients – a Project Manager’s Perspective

A Project Manager plays an essential role in the healthcare system. They are responsible for creating a detailed plan once a new program is established. This means that they are involved from start to finish and also have to prepare a quick solution should a problem arise. As you can imagine, it’s quite a busy and demanding role. Other tasks include reporting on progress and supervising other members involved in the project.

In this blog post, we would like to introduce you to Joshua Hambleton, a Project Manager with the Arnprior Region and Ottawa West (AROW) Health Link. The Health Links are an initiative established by the Ontario government to provide coordinated care to the top 5% of healthcare users across the province.

What makes this program unique?

Unlike other approaches, the patient is put at the centre of their own care. Their team of providers will establish a care plan and the patient and their family will work together with them to ensure the patient is receiving the care they need. Caring for this specific group of patients with complex needs is essential. If they are not getting the care they require or something goes wrong, they are likely to end up back in the emergency room. Hospital readmissions are especially costly on the system. By providing more accessible and frequent care, more patients are able to manage their conditions at home. Joshua has worked with patients like these during his time at the AROW Health Link for the past four years. He sat down with us to share more about managing complex patients and how using a mobile healthcare app has impacted this role.

When asked to begin by defining his goals as part of the organization, he responded, “we focus on client goals, the care teams, and connecting the care teams around the client’s priorities”. His role as an implementation manager is to make sure the organization is taking on a patient-centred approach – this includes anything from business planning to the actual implementation and evolution of the approach. “I first became interested in Health Links as I was exploring opportunities to work between agencies,” he explains. “I’ve worked in acute settings, primary care, community care, and I recognized that where I’m able to contribute the most is working in a space that there was a greater opportunity to apply my skills and experience.”

Closing the “Gap”

What interested him particularly about working in a Health Link is the opportunity to close, what he refers to, as the “gap”. “I became involved with a Health Link focused on working between agencies in the gap where often the relationships were referral based or dependent on the patient to carry that information from provider to provider,” Joshua says. As you can imagine, when healthcare providers rely solely on the patient to keep them up-to-date, there may be gaps in information.

Working in a network of different specialists and organizations is much different than working in a single agency. “One of the biggest challenges is getting people to think outside of their organizations and how we go broader,” he says. “Whether it might be mental health, an acute setting, or geriatrics, how do we link these networks together so that we’re sharing information and have better communication across providers?”

What makes this even more complicated is that each organization has their own proprietary health records. Joshua adds that communication between these organizations is usually still done through fax or phone – a more old-fashioned approach. “How do we share information and make it as real-time and relevant in that environment as possible?” he asks. They may have found the solution… and it comes in the form of a digital platform.

Introducing a New Technology

The AROW Health Link (and many other Health Links) have been using aTouchAway in an attempt to bridge the gap. aTouchAway by Aetonix is a remote communication platform designed to help manage the care of multiple patients with complex needs securely. According to Joshua, aTouchAway has been effective for enhancing better communication, “whether it’s sharing documents like discharge summaries or just general updates about home visits or the updated coordinated care plan”.

Connecting the Whole Circle of Care

Many times, healthcare information systems don’t include the patient (and their family) in their own care. This is both surprising and slightly concerning considering families provide the majority of care to chronically ill patients. In fact, there are more than 8 million informal caregivers in Canada alone. How do we solve this disconnection? “Aetonix allows for a way to have informal caregivers be part of the care team with access to the care plans and to the broader professionals,” he says. One reason why patients and their families may not be able to be actively involved in their care is a lack of communication tools. Many patients have mobility issues or live in rural areas which may prevent them from being able to frequently see their health team. Since Joshua’s Health Link is able to work together with Aetonix’s partners (Samsung, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Bell), they can provide patients in their homes with tablets and a cellular connection. This way, even patients who previously had no internet connection at home have the ability to reach out for care whenever it’s necessary. Simple tasks such as follow-ups, appointment confirmations, and education can now be done through the software without the patient having to leave home.

Enhancing User Experiences

Joshua also uses the application himself for various purposes. “I tend to go to the app for sharing different client information with care teams and with those care coordinators,” he says. Since most of his work is done on a program level (and not a direct care level), he is more focused on engaging the care teams with the software and getting them to communicate through it more often. “It’s a new technology,” he explains. “So both in terms of whether it’s a care coordinator, the care teams, the clients, we have different levels of engagement. Even having the tablet there is a comfort and a reassurance for clients. Despite having, say low usage on the app itself, it’s just a knowledge that they can be connected should there be a challenge that they come across or they need to reach out.” He says they also have clients who use aTouchAway much more frequently. This use is mainly for connecting with their care team; both formal and informal.

He recalls some really positive experiences patients at his Health Link have had with the app. “A great story that I heard recently was this woman who was able to be connected to her daughters who lived across Canada, one on the East Coast, one on the West, I think someone in Calgary as well,” he explains, “this woman was able to not only connect with her family and her daughters, but was able to see their apartments for the first time due to not being able to travel.” For patients with mobility issues or who live far from their families, it is small things like this that will make using the technology worthwhile for them.

A Bright Future for Digital

“I think we’re just beginning to learn about what the advantages are of using a technology like Aetonix,” Joshua responds when asked about the future of solutions like aTouchAway. “I mentioned a couple of the projects that are underway and people are really getting excited about having the opportunity to explore how to use the technology. In the same way that the Health Link is really working in the “gap” between agencies, Aetonix has the same opportunity to work in that gap where we don’t have communication tools to be able to work the way that we need to in the future.”

Featured image courtesy of Healthline.
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