Category "Science and Technology"

13Feb

Virtual walk-in clinics increase access to doctors in rural B.C. communities

by admin


Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.


Submitted photo / PNG

For weeks, Candace Marynuik hadn’t felt like herself.

She might have told a doctor about her “weird symptoms,” but since moving to Fort St. John in 2017 she had been forced to rely on the local walk-in clinic, lining up in sub-zero weather before sunrise to be turned away when every space was filled.

“I hadn’t seen a doctor in over two years,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.”

In September, a friend suggested an app she had used to get a prescription refilled.

Within hours, Marynuik had a virtual appointment with a B.C. doctor, and within a week she had done blood tests and an X-ray. She even had a suspected diagnosis — multiple sclerosis. She would need an MRI and a visit to the University of B.C.’s MS clinic in Vancouver to confirm the diagnosis, but doctors she had never met in person connected her with the right specialists.

“I don’t know how long I would have waited (to go to the hospital in Fort St. John),” she said. “By the time I got on the plane to Vancouver, my brain was in a fog.”


Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.

Submitted photo /

PNG

The Babylon app by Telus Health was launched in B.C. in March, at that time the only province in Canada with a billing code to pay doctors for virtual visits.

While Telus was reluctant to provide Postmedia News with information on the number of British Columbians who have used the free app so far, the telecommunications company said “tens of thousands” of people have downloaded Babylon and completed consultations. January saw the highest downloads to date, with a 30 per cent increase over December.

“The growth has been significant,” said Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Telus Consumer Health. “Some of the stories people have told us bring tears to my eyes. It’s been used by a 97-year-old who had trouble seeing a doctor because of mobility issues, someone who said the app saved their family’s Christmas (and) people in rural areas who have to drive hours to see a doctor.”

Sihota said the number of doctors registered with the app is growing, with many drawn to the system by the work-life balance it provides. Some work part-time in clinics or their own practices and take calls through Babylon on the side. Like a physical walk-in clinic, the doctors bill MSP for the consultations.

Sihota said “connected care” is at the heart of the Babylon app. While patients receive access to the doctor’s written notes, they can also play back a video of their consultation. The virtual clinic also helps them arrange the necessary tests and followup appointments.

In a short survey conducted for Telus after each appointment, 92 per cent of respondents said their main request was resolved by the end of their consultation. Asked to rate the service, they gave it an average 4.9 out of five stars, a number that hasn’t dropped since March.

The top conditions treated by doctors through the app include mental health, sexual health, skin disorders and respiratory issues. So far, more women have used it than men.

“We should all have equal access to health care,” said Sihota. “We believe technology can make our health-care system better at less cost.”


The Babylon app by Telus Health connects B.C. residents with doctors.

PNG

Babylon isn’t the only example of virtual health care in B.C.

The primary health-care strategy announced by the provincial government in 2018 included an emphasis on technology solutions. At a news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said technology would be used to bring health care closer to home for those in rural and remote areas through the use of telehealth services and new digital home-health monitoring.

B.C. Children’s Hospital uses technology to link specialists to doctors and patients throughout the province through 19 telehealth centres, conducting about 140 virtual appointments per month. Specialists also provide advice to adult patients through a program called Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise.

The government paid nearly $3 million for about 43,000 video-conference visits to doctors in 2015-16. The number of virtual visits rose to over one million in 2016-17.

Telus Health has recently made a push into the health-care field, buying a chain of elite medical clinics and reportedly spending over $2 billion on a variety of digital-health tools.

Some doctors have questioned whether virtual health care erodes quality of care by eliminating long-term doctor patient relationships in favour of episodic care, while also making it more attractive for doctors to work for a virtual clinic, making it even harder to see a doctor in person.

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—With files from Postmedia News

gluymes@postmedia.com

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22Jun

Changing health care one app at a time

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When Mari-Lynn Cordahi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 21 years ago, she would have welcomed someone to talk to who knew from experience what she was going through.

Today, she fills that role for others newly diagnosed with MS, thanks to her role as a peer mentor on Curatio. Dubbed a ‘social health prescription,’ Vancouver-based Curatio is the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Lynda Brown-Ganzert.


Mari-Lynn Cordahi is a peer mentor on Curatio.

Handout

“I’ve connected with people through the Curatio app,” said Cordahi. “One person in the UK, I connected with her within days of her being diagnosed.

“If I put myself back 21 years ago, I know what she is going through. I sure would have appreciated it if something like this had been available then.”

Using a combination of artificial intelligence and private social networks, Curatio’s mobile app fills a gap in our healthcare system, creating personalized support networks for patients and caregivers who are newly diagnosed or navigating their way through an illness or chronic condition.

The idea came to Brown-Ganzert when she was undergoing fertility issues and complications in pregnancy.


Using a combination of artificial intelligence and private social networks, Curatio’s mobile app fills a gap in our healthcare system, creating personalized support networks for patients and caregivers who are newly diagnosed or navigating their way through an illness or chronic condition.

“It was when we were having our second child and there were some complications and issues around that,” she said.  “I became  a patient and found, ‘oh my goodness, there are some really broken pieces here.’

“Being an entrepreneur you’re always thinking how you could fix it. The genesis of Curatio came from that – looking at the isolation, the difficulty patients have navigating, the lack of curated information you can trust that is personalized to you, connecting with others who are similar to you or have gone through the same thing.”

Brown-Ganzert, whose background is in digital media, had spent the previous 10 years building private mobile social networks. Her experience with the healthcare system convinced her that the idea of private social networks could be applied in the healthcare field.

“A good friend of mine had a heart attack and became our first use case,” she said. “With him and together with Alireza (Davoodi), my co-founder, we built a prototype in 40 days, went on to win a global challenge and our first customer and we were off.”

That was five years ago. Today Curatio is used in more than 85 countries and in four languages.

“Where I started from was recognizing social was a missing piece in healthcare transformation. When you start to connect patients, and we have clinical evidence to show this, you have improved outcomes,” said Brown-Ganzert.

When you sign onto the system, an AI agent helps you navigate to find what you need. There are currently three active communities: in heart, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia, an online community ThaliMe, plus you can sign onto the general Curatio network, or as a caregiver.

Along with the social support, the app provides everything from medication reminders to self-assessment, helping patients manage their disease or chronic condition.

Brown-Ganzert  took the concept to the Dragon’s Den, winning over three dragons from the television show who are among investors who so far have put US$1.6 million into the company. Curatio counts a number of non-profit patient advocacy organizations as clients, delivering a means to reach patients that complies with privacy and regulatory requirements. The platform is also being used in research, providing a social plugin that helps research teams connect to participants in their community.

For Beverly Sudbury, of Charlottetown, PEI, Curatio creates connections to a global community of people who share a diagnosis of MS.

“For me I like connecting with people and I like finding new sources of information or bouncing ideas off people,” she said.


For Beverly Sudbury, of Charlottetown, PEI, Curatio creates connections to a global community of people who share a diagnosis of MS.

Handout

Sudbury, who is also a peer supporter on the network, said she checks daily to see what’s new.

“It’s building an online community of people you can get support from when you’re having a crappy day,” she said. “They’ll say ‘keep going,’ or they’ll help out with a different perspective.”

Users create their own profile on the app, but they don’t have to use their real name and can choose what information is publicly displayed.

There is also a private chat function.

“For me the chat functionality is fantastic,” said Sudbury.

Unlike friends and family who can’t really understand some of the issues facing people with MS because they haven’t lived with the disease, Sudbury said other patients will know exactly what she is talking about.

“I’ll say ‘I’m tired,” and a friend will say, ‘I know what you mean, I was up really late last night,’” she said. “But it’s not the same.”

Cordahi, who was an elementary school teacher before MS forced her to stop teaching 15 years ago, likes to volunteer since she can’t work and Curatio provides that opportunity to engage.

“When you talk to someone who has gone through this journey, there is definitely a sense of comfort and trust that they understand and are going through something similar – even when it’s difficult subjects or personal things,” she said.

gilliandshaw@gmail.com

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1May

May is Speech and Hearing month, Yat Li addresses that

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Yat Li of the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, in Vancouver on May 1. Li was born with tiny ears and now has prosthetic ones. The hard-of-hearing refer to deafness as the invisible disability, Li, communications and marketing manager with the WIDHH, said.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

In a way, suffering from hearing loss is worse than many other physical ailments because, for one, it’s not particularly visible.

In fact, the hard-of-hearing refer to it as the invisible disability, Yat Li, communications and marketing manager with the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH), said.

“Growing up in the ’90s, I was very self-conscious,” Li said. “I had lots of problems, without wearing hearing aids I am not able to function normally.”

He was born in Hong Kong with microtia — tiny ears, one of about 40,000 born every year with the condition worldwide — and his family moved to Coquitlam when Li was five.

There was practically no Chinese culture in Coquitlam then, Li didn’t speak English well (nor, for that matter, did he speak Cantonese well). It’s hard to learn to speak when you have profound hearing loss.

About 157,000 people report being deaf or hard-of-hearing in B.C., according to WIDHH figures. Hearing loss affects social skills, learning and mental health.

“Many of us take our ability to communicate for granted, but the ability to speak, hear and be heard is much more vital to our everyday lives than most of us realize,” says Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. “For those who have difficulty communicating, everyday interactions can pose significant challenges.

“A communication disorder may prevent an individual from performing well at work, asking for help, hearing instructions at school or even saying. ‘I love you’.”

And whereas poor eyesight is corrected by something that’s become a fashion accessory — eyeglasses — hearing aids don’t enjoy the same panache.

Li has prosthetic ears (they look great). The ears are attached magnetically to small posts inserted into his skull, sitting where his tiny biological ears used to be. He had the surgery to install them when he was 21 by Vancouver doctor Jack Zolty at the Realistic Prosthetic Studio. The procedure cost $5,000, as did each ear, a cost not borne by the Medical Services Plan because he wasn’t considered deaf enough.

Li can swim with his ears on. He takes them off at night. And the hearing aid is hidden behind his right, attachable ear.

Growing up, Li wore his hair long in embarrassment, classmates made fun of him. He was an ethnic minority, he was small, he had those tiny ears, he was easy to pick on. Even today, folks who should probably know better make jokes at his expense: Things like, when it’s raining, cautioning Li not to get electrocuted.

“It’s funny to them, I guess, it’s not funny to me,” he said.

Li worked in marketing in the hotel industry up to 18 months ago when he got tired of hiding his hearing loss, tired of faking it like he was “ordinary.” He was scared people would look at him differently, feel he was weak if they knew the truth.

“It took me a long time of trying to live with who I am and what I am. I’ve only become open to sharing myself, sharing who I am, recently,” the 30-year-old Li said.

Besides his work with the deaf and hard-of-hearing institute, which by the way isn’t government funded but that relies on charitable donations for its work and to pay for its staff of 40 or so, Li markets his Acoustic Wear line, clothing with sayings such as ‘Pardon Me?’ and ‘Hear I Stand’.

And, in his quest to be an inspiration for others, he addresses conferences around the globe.

“I want others to feel empowered and inspired and motivated by someone who went through what I faced, because I did not think I would be here right now,” Lee said.

“For parents, I want you to know you can love your kid with no barriers. You know the cards you’ve been dealt is not the perfect hand. It’s about how you play them. Show affection to your kids, love them for who they are. That’s when they’ll realize, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be me.’ ”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

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