Remote symptom tracking and monitoring are vital in supporting COVID-19 positive patients

By Fabian A. Folias

There are more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases across Canada.

When the pandemic hit, the Cardiac Arrhythmia Network of Canada (CANet) took decisive action to adapt its cutting-edge digital health web-based application to address Canadians’ needs.


“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for effective virtual health care,” says Dr. Anthony Tang, CANet CEO and Scientific Director. “Technology solutions support this care by giving both patients and health care providers fast and accurate access to critical information about symptom progression.”

Co-designed by patients and physicians, VIRTUES (Virtual Integrated Reliable Transformative User-Driven E-health System) is a virtual, patient-centred platform that helps guide COVID-19 positive patients manage their illness.

“VIRTUES provides a way for health care providers to monitor remotely, triage and manage care for patients with COVID-19, and help identify early on those who are at higher risk of complications,” adds Dr. Tang.

This platform delivers a new model of virtual care, supported by Canadian technology that will improve access and delivery of quality care, reduce the stress of patients with COVID-19, decrease exposure to all communities, and protect essential frontline health care workers.

It is a digital solution that ensures the highest security level for Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and medical data abiding by Health Canada’s stringent security standards to protect patient health records and data following the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) of Canada.

VIRTUES streamlines the patient assessment process making it faster to understand patient needs and identify high-risk patients while limiting face-to-face interaction.

Patients receive an at-home blood oxygen monitor and provided access to the secure web-based application where their data and other vital sign information is input, and their symptoms are logged and tracked. With VIRTUES, patients will have remote access to a team of health care providers, including those specializing in the fields of cardiology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, infectious disease, neurology, and respirology.

“Using VIRTUES, the care team can monitor a range of symptoms remotely that tells us a lot about how the patient is doing. In addition to tracking their temperature, we are using a home-based pulse oximeter to measure pulse rate and oxygen saturation,” says Dr. Marko Mrkobrada, London Health Sciences Centre physician.

VIRTUES provides alerts for communication between the patient and members of the care team. They can react quickly if additional care is needed, such as visiting the doctor’s office or hospital.

Adapted for COVID-19, VIRTUES is already in use with a CANet-funded study providing remote management to patients who live with either a pacemaker or implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD).

Currently, VIRTUES has been implemented in the COVID-19 Virtual Care at Home research study from the Urgent COVID-19 Care Clinic at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). The virtual clinic helps identify, triage, monitor, and manage potential complications for people recovering from COVID-19 at home.

“We want to learn more about making health care technology user-friendly. Patients will have more information about their care and hopefully will experience reduced anxiety,” explains Dr. Erin Spicer, London Health Sciences Centre physician. “While the majority of COVID-19 cases don’t require hospitalization, this system allows us to more closely monitor a patient’s progress and make informed decisions if their symptoms worsen.”

The Ottawa Hospital is also actively recruiting patients with other sites to follow.

“Since enrolment began, we’ve had an influx of patients recruited into the study. Many patients have expressed their satisfaction knowing that they will have remote access to their care team for review and follow up during their recovery,” says Dr. Venkatesh Thiruganasambandamoorthy, Ottawa Hospital emergency physician. “With remote symptom tracking and monitoring through VIRTUES, we want to help alleviate patient anxiety and reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.”

Reducing patient anxiety and improving patient satisfaction are primary aspects that the VIRTUES health care model expects to demonstrate. Other benefits of this digital health solution include reducing health care resources, rapid tracking of case recovery, and early recognition of patients that may require further management, including hospitalization.

This health care model can be adapted further to facilitate other clinical settings and improve the accessibility of quality care to vulnerable populations in isolated, rural, and underprivileged environments.

“We hope to see VIRTUES implemented across Canada. Patients will have access to enhanced care while being able to hopefully stay in their homes during their recovery, helping to decrease the exposure of COVID-19 in the community and for frontline health care workers,” adds Dr. Tang.

To learn more about VIRTUES, visit www.virtues.care

Fabian A. Folias is Director of Digital Marketing and Communications, CANet Cardiac Arrhythmia Network of Canada.