Innovations in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted on April 1, 2020 in Health Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors

Times are certainly tough. The COVID-19 pandemic and our efforts to contain its spread has affected almost every aspect of our daily lives. Loved ones are becoming ill, people are losing their jobs, having difficulty returning home from abroad and are becoming increasingly socially isolated as a necessary result of intense social distancing practices. Strangely, toilet paper has also become a scarce commodity.

Yet amidst all of this terrible news, some incredible things are happening around us. The now viral Twitter-based #caremongering campaign is a great example of how Canadians come together during times of crisis to look after one another. Other nations are looking to see how to help a friendly neighbour down the street.

Many of my colleagues in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto are also seeking innovative ways to solve COVID-19 related problems.

I sent an email to our 800-member faculty and received a remarkable set of answers. I grouped the innovations into five categories: virtual care, processes of care for hospitalized patients, medical devices, capacity planning and research.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of virtual #caremongering is displayed by OpenLab’s Friendly Neighbour Hotline. With the help of several hundred volunteers, Friendly Neighbour provides assistance to more than 14,000 low-income seniors who are socially isolated by providing deliveries of things like food and household essentials. This extraordinary effort helps protect some of the most vulnerable people from contracting COVID-19 and lets them know that they are not forgotten.

In the hospital setting, health care workers are employing simpler but equally impressive efforts to protect patients and health care workers from COVID-19. St. Michael’s Hospital has set up an “isolation shelter” for underhoused people awaiting the results of their COVID-19 testing.

At Sinai Health System, hundreds of families have donated baby monitors to be able to easily communicate with patients without having to continually enter and exit their room.

The Toronto Western Hospital is using Bluetooth enabled remote monitors that continuously transmit a patient’s oxygen levels and heart rate to their nurse. These practices help preserve the limited supply of personal protective equipment and minimize the risk of health care worker exposure to the virus with each repeated visit, while continuing to provide excellent patient care.

My colleagues are also thinking of creative ways to safely optimize the use of medical devices like mechanical ventilators. Some of the proposed solutions include using one ventilator to breath for two people simultaneously and repurposing large animal ventilators in veterinary clinics in case supply runs short. People are also working on simpler solutions, such as sewing cloth masks to give to infected people to wear to reduce the risk of their spreading the virus to others.

There are immense efforts going on at all levels of the health care system for capacity planning to ensure we can respond to the potential surge in patients with COVID-19 who require hospital admission and critical care.

At the local level, my colleagues are using advanced computer modelling to predict the number of cases expected to arrive in Canada as well as determining the maximum number of new patients that an individual hospital could manage. These tools are being used internationally by over 60 countries across five continents.

Finally, the unbelievably rapid response to creating new international randomized trials of different therapies for COVID-19 is like none we have ever seen before. To give some perspective, it generally takes an average of at least two years for a team to put together such a large trial; in response to COVID-19, these are being launched in a few months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we used to know it, and the collective suffering of all is palpable on a global scale. Thankfully, there are countless people combining efforts to help those affected by COVID-19. Times are certainly tough; but when the going gets tough ….

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