New program allows lung transplant patients to monitor health at home

A new partnership is allowing lung transplant patients to recover at home, virtually.

Late last week TELUS Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and eHealth Saskatchewan announced the expansion of a Home Health Monitoring solution allowing lung transplant patients to monitor their recovery digitally.

The digital health dashboard allows a virtual health care team to provide medial support remotely for patients in real-time as they recover at home.

The dashboard can be accessed through a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, sending daily prompts to patients to report biometrics such as lung function, blood pressure and overall health condition.

If patients don’t have their own tools, they are provided with devices such as Bluetooth-connected scales and blood pressure cuffs to monitor their vitals. The data is then sent to the care team to regularly and remotely monitor a patient’s well-being. They can then review crucial data in real-time, allowing them to detect urgent health needs and mitigate infection, incision or neurocognitive impairment issues.

In a press release, the organizations said transplant patients have compromised immune systems, especially during the first month after their transplant due to the use of immunosuppressant medication. The medication helps prevent the patient’s body from rejecting the donated organ.

The program is expected to support 60 to 70 patients for the lifetime of their transplant. Discussions are underway to expand use of the home health monitoring to patients with heart conditions and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While the program is new to Saskatchewan, it’s been used in BC since 2013 to remotely monitor thousands of patients living with conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and respiratory diseases. It’s also been used to monitor COVID-19 patients during the pandemic

Over all, those with heart or respiratory issues, 81 per cent reported fewer emergency room visits and 92 per cent reported fewer hospital admissions.

“We are excited to be developing a virtual care strategy to enable Saskatchewan residents to receive timely, quality care at home,” said Dr. Vern Behl, Saskatchewan Health Authority senior medical information officer, in a press release.

 “Home health monitoring allows patients to be active participants in their care, helping to ensure better outcomes. It also helps build capacity in our healthcare system, preventing our acute care facilities from becoming overwhelmed, which is especially necessary at this time. This virtual care strategy will benefit the province and people of Saskatchewan during the pandemic, and for years to come.”

eHealth Saskatchewan CEO Jim Hornell said work to get a program like this off the ground began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the pandemic sped up the process.

“This really shows the possibility of technology,” he told the Herald.

“it allows us to really decrease exposing high-risk patients to a hospital environment where they may be susceptible to the virus.”

The system can reduce emergency room visits and shorten hospital stays.

“Patients can go home sooner and know they’re being looked after by their provider,” he said. “You want to have capacity in your hospitals. You don’t want to have people there when they could be cared for much better elsewhere.”

The new platform is just one of many examples of an accelerating use of remote and virtual health technology spreading through Saskatchewan, in part due to a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, during a conference call, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said over 100,000 people have accessed medical appointments through virtual care.

“People are going to see that it’s not such a bad way to do business,” Hornell said.

“I think you’ll see more virtual care like this home health monitoring and other technologies we’re able to use now.”

Like with any piece of technology, one of the top concerns is privacy and security. Hornell said processes are in place to make the service as secure as possible. Privacy assessments are done and the province has invested in “significant technology” to make sure things are safe.

This isn’t the first time the province has worked with TELUS Health. In 2019, the company, eHealth and the SHA worked together to launch MySaskHealthRecord, which allows residents to access their personal health information, including medical imaging results, laboratory tests and clinical visit history.

Hornell said the home health monitoring program, like MySaskHealthRecord, has the bonus of allowing patients to have greater control over their health care.

‘They become a key member of the health care team,” Hornell said.

“Not only do their providers get to see this information, the patient does as well. I think you get a more educated patient because of the ability to monitor progress.”

The said educational materials are sent out with the monitoring package as well, empowering patients.

“It goes to the philosophy the SHA has to have patients front and centre, involved in their care,” he said.

“It has gone a long way to putting the patient first.”