Joan Ritchie is thankful she can stay in the comfort of her home for her monthly appointment with her Niagara Health oncologist during the pandemic.The Niagara Falls resident’s regular appointment at the Oncology Day Clinic at our Greater Niagara General Site has shifted to a telephone visit with her oncologist, Dr. Mithula Tharmabala, for safety reasons.
“I thought it was a great idea,” the 84-year-old says of the telephone check-in. “You’re still having regular interaction with your doctor. She is asking me the same questions that she would ask me when I was sitting next to her. Dr. Tharmabala is very easy to talk to and she provides great care.”
The blood tests Joan would normally have done on the same day as her clinic visits at the hospital are now completed in her apartment by a private lab service. The results are sent to Dr. Tharmabala.
Joan, who has lived with cancer for nearly six years and takes an oral medication as part of her treatment, says she has felt well supported by the oncology team throughout the pandemic.
“I just have to call Dr. Tharmabala’s office (at the Walker Family Cancer Centre at the St. Catharines Site) and everyone is always very obliging and helpful. The response is really good. Between my home-care providers and the people at the Walker Family Cancer Centre, everyone is so nice. I’m thankful for the great care and support I receive.”
INCREASING FOCUS ON VIRTUAL CARE
Niagara Health has been using virtual care for a number of years in many of our programs, including Oncology, but COVID-19 has sped up that work.
During the pandemic, we have been placing an increasing focus on virtual care – using video conferencing and telephone calls – to meet the needs of our patients, and support safety by reducing traffic in and out of the hospital.
For example, we normally see about 500 patients each week at our cancer centre’s Oncology Clinic. Since COVID – that number has dropped to 100 per week, with others receiving care through video-conferencing and over the phone.
Many of our surgeons are also making use of virtual care for post-operative visits – checking in with patients at home and providing additional test results. Many pre-surgery visits are also taking place virtually, with nurses contacting patients ahead of time.
Our Mental Health and Addictions team has also been a leader in adopting this model of care, using video conferencing and telephone to consult with patients. During the pandemic, many of our Mental Health and Addictions outpatient programs have moved to videoconferencing and telephone calls.
Our stroke program has been using virtual care for years in the Emergency Department. For example, neurologists can connect through video to examine a stroke patient virtually, working with the Emergency Department team to determine next treatment steps when time is of the essence.
Because of COVID-19, we have turned our Stroke Prevention Clinic into a virtual clinic. All consults with patients are done over the phone.
Virtual care will be a bigger part of our services moving forward, especially as we gradually resume services.