The tipping is here: Re-imagining healthcare

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By: Jo-anne Marr

There is a revolution happening in health care and its tipping point is here. The confluence of affordable, accessible digital technology, consumer/patient demand and a health system focus on integrated care is the catalyst we needed to reimagine how care is provided at Markham Stouffville Hospital. The changing demographics and the aging population are also big drivers for the need to make changes to keep the system sustainable and accessible.

The new era of highly connected and informed patients who walk through our doors expect much more than our system has traditionally been able to provide.  But that is changing. Increasingly, we are embracing the, not so subtle, push from our patients and their families, and charting a course for Markham Stouffville Hospital that we hope will exceed the expectations of those requiring our care and that will help the system as a whole.

One way we are harnessing this new reality has been to create an Office of Innovation. One of the first of its kind in the province, named SmartCare, it will enable us to deliver patient care that capitalizes on new technologies that lead to enhanced efficiency, convenience and improved system coordination for patients.  Early progress has already been made in our patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. The hospital has partnered with Cloud DX, Closing the Gap Healthcare and Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care to offer patients and their caregivers a solution to better self-manage their condition at home to avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital. From the comfort of their home, patients use a tablet and tools to measure their vital signs including oxygen saturation, blood pressure, heart rate, and weight and then automatically, it is sent to the patient’s care team at the hospital to monitor their health condition, prevent flare-ups, and reduce the risk of emergency visits.

Remembering our purpose to improve the patient experience

Another leap forward has been the adoption of the Patient Oriented Discharge Summary (PODS) in our surgical areas. Our engaged patients want to be part of their own health care journey. PODS was co-developed by patients, caregivers and health care providers at the University Health Network’s OpenLab. It is a tool that provides patients with clear and easy-to-understand instructions that allow patients to manage their care after leaving the hospital. The overall aim is to improve transitions from the hospital, reduce readmissions and foster better outcomes for patients.

DashMD is a new app that allows patients to download discharge instructions post emergency visit, a great way to address lost paper notes and forgotten instructions during what is often a stressful situation.

Finally, we have initiated a navigator role in our hospital. Over years of silo-driven expansion in health care, our system is now a complex set of organizations that, historically, have not worked together to manage the transitions faced by patients requiring a broad range of health services. This too is changing. Our focus today puts the patient at the centre of the system and works to have the services wrapped around them.

Our focus on improved navigation has started with patients that have chronic, complex medical conditions that require frequent emergency room visits. The navigator establishes a relationship and is available to assist with the transitions between Markham Stouffville Hospital to home and community services.  It is early days, but feedback from patients and their family has been incredibly positive.

We believe this new model of care is just the beginning of an integrated system of care for patients in our community. Expansion of the navigator role to all patients that may benefit from its hands-on service will support patients in accessing care when and where they need it and will keep patients in their home or in long-term care homes where they are most comfortable.

If we are going to reimagine health care that reflects the rapid changes occurring in patient/consumer demand and the digital health ecosystem, as hospitals we must also evolve our organizations to accept change, manage risk and listen rather than tell patients – allowing them to lead us in a new, more responsive and modern direction.

We can’t turn back the technological tide, nor do we want to, but altering the course of a hospital entrenched in decades of process and policies is something that today’s hospital leaders don’t get to chose. If we agree that the tipping point is here, then our path is clear. We must be laser focused on driving a better patient experience and outcomes by using all available and affordable health technologies at our disposable. It won’t be easy, nothing this important ever is, but I believe Markham Stouffville Hospital is well on its way.

Jo-anne Marr is President and CEO, Markham Stouffville Hospital.