Woman sits in her office in clinical setting

Darlene Aylward, a registered nurse with Health PEI, helps to coordinate the care of chronically ill people at home.

For a lot of older individuals who suffer from heart failure, diabetes or other chronic health conditions, multiple monthly emergency room visits are part of the normal routine.

Paul Young, administrator at Community Hospital, O’Leary, in Prince Edward Island, Canada, proposed a virtual hospital as a way for these individuals to receive efficient care while avoiding unnecessary hospital visits. 

The company’s use of a virtual hospital system snagged it the Gold Award in the Innovator of the Year category in the Home Care track of the 2021 McKnight’s Excellence in Technology Awards.

After receiving a $50,000 grant from the Canadian Agency for Brain Health Innovation in 2019, Young and his team got to work establishing a home care system that would link chronically ill individuals with a team of caregivers at the hospital. The virtual hospital technology was put in place in April 2020.

When patients receive care at home, they answer a daily questionnaire from an electronic tablet about their signs and symptoms that is then referred to Darlene Aylward, a registered nurse and the sole virtual caregiver at Community Hospital, O’Leary.

Aylward then reviews each patient’s data to monitor their vital signs as well as identify warning signals. “The system allows us to take a lot of preventative action,” she said.

If a patient’s vitals look abnormal, she is able to quickly call the patient, ask them additional questions, as well as forward the data to the patient’s primary provider. 

In the middle of a pandemic, the virtual hospital system allowed patients to quickly receive care while staying in their homes, avoiding the possibility of contact with the virus.

 “This technology allowed them to reach out at a time when they really needed it,” Young said.

The virtual hospital has seen many successes. One patient, a woman in her 90s, averted hospitalization after Aylward noticed one of her vitals was off. Her primary provider was able to quickly review her vital information and prescribe medication for the patient’s family to pick up from their local pharmacy, allowing her to quickly recover.

“The patients have a sense of relief because they know we are on the other end of the phone and can do what we can to help them with any situation,” Aylward said. 

Other Innovator of the Year awards in the Home Care track:

Cypress Living in Fort Myers, FL, received Silver for implementing technology that helps patients age in place. It instituted a virtual care platform to allow patients to easily schedule and customize appointments and brought in Ohmnhi Labs telehealth robots to assess patient health. The latter also allows medical assistants to perform telemedicine visits.

For more on the 2021 McKnight’s Tech Award winners, visit here.