March 27, 2019 – Katie Heckman and Cathy Cruz, Nova Scotia Health Authority – Over 20 years ago, the Nova Scotia Telehealth Network (NSTN) was introduced into health care as the first of its kind in using videoconferencing technology to deliver remote patient care. With advancements in technology, Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the IWK Health Centre (IWK) have made investments to allow for the exploration of innovative, e-health solutions, beyond telehealth units, to enhance the delivery of remote patient care. To better represent all potential technologies that support health care from a distance, the NSTN rebranded to Virtual Care.
In 2015, the amalgamation of nine health authorities to one health authority (NSHA) and the IWK Health Centre, provided an opportunity to begin this work by implementing a province-wide structure for what was then known as the NSHA Telehealth Program. The program, which is maintained by NSHA Information Management and Technology’s (IM/IT) Unified Communications team, initiated the Telehealth restructure project, following a thorough program review.
From 2016-2018, Virtual Care met many milestones for growth and established a new governance structure, with defined roles and responsibilities. Virtual Care also developed foundational plans that aligned with the NSHA’s strategic direction, including evaluation, quality improvement, communication, diversity and inclusion, and patient engagement. Alongside this work, Virtual Care implemented a streamlined provincial scheduling software, standardized provincial procedures and processes, and developed/implemented a Virtual Care Policy to support the growth of Virtual Care.
In May 2018, Virtual Care completed the Restructuring Project and began accepting and processing new initiative requests to integrate virtual care services into clinical service areas, including primary health, palliative care, and mental health and addictions. Over the first quarter of 2018-19, Virtual Care has seen an increase of telehealth appointments by 22.6%. We continue to work toward increasing our users as well as better support our existing users in using virtual care.