New portal connects 3 million Canadian caregivers

If you live anywhere in Canada and are caring for a loved one who is suffering from a long term illness, chances are you would have heard of VON – more formally called the Victoria Order of Nurses.

VON delivers over 75 different programs aimed at helping patients and families across the country meet the challenges posed by long-term healthcare issues.

The 100-year-old organization felt the need to reach out to a new generation of families, community caregivers and healthcare professionals.

So it turned to a Toronto-based IT systems and services provider to integrate a business collaboration tool into its existing Web portal to boost site’s ability to connect with users.

Navantis Inc. used Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to create a bilingual, collaborative and user-friendly social networking portal.

The site connects an estimated three million caregivers across Canada who use VON services.

The project helped Navantis bag the  Microsoft’s Ignite IT Award.

The six-month venture, which began last November, is partly funded through a $1 million investment by Canada Health Infoway. VON Canada also partnered with the Waterloo Institute for Informatics Research for multi-disciplinary expertise and guidance with health informatics issues.

Many healthcare organizations connect patients and heath care workers via Web portals that typically harness some of the same online collaboration strategies used by businesses.

Prior to the creation of VON’s Caregiver Connect site, many caregivers (mostly family members providing care to ailing friends or relatives) did not have a single online source to access professional medical advice.

Such counsel could include care giving tips, timely and relevant healthcare information or even a simple connection with people with similar concerns, according to Dr. Judith Shamian, president and CEO of VON Canada.

“We know first hand that care giving can be isolating,” she said. “One goal of Caregiver Connect is to enhance autonomy, independence and quality of life for caregivers and those whom they provide care.”

Shamian said the portal often takes the place of what is called the “doorway conversation”.

From VON’s inception years ago until present times, care-giving family members have sought advice or reassurance by visiting the facility’s nurses.

Often these visits occur just as the nurses are about to leave.

With the new portal, when a caregiver visits the site, Shamian said, the person can check out the latest information related to a specific condition.

They can also click on links to Government of Canada programs, find information on working and care giving, legal and financial assistance, homecare programs and connect with fellow caregivers.

What’ more, they can locate experts in the “virtual meeting place” of the portal’s caregiver communities.

Exhaustive information can be found on the portal on a range on conditions including: Alzheimer’s disease, heart and stroke, mental health, Parkinson’s disease, cancer care, and multiple sclerosis.

The portal also enabled VON to extend its services to a wider clientele despite budgetary limitations that prevent its 4,500 health care workers and 9,016 community volunteers from providing 24-hour assistance to homebound caregivers.

“The system brings a 100-year-old organization into the 21st century,” according to Patrick Parato, account manager on the VON Community Caregiver Connect Portal solution team with Navantis.

He said VON nurses already do an exemplary job, and by using business-grade online collaboration tools the organization can extend their services to a wider audience.

“[We] can free up nurses and volunteers to do even more.”  

Parato noted that SharePoint-based offerings are already being used by many businesses to connect remote offices and workers and enable online collaboration on various tasks.

He said this specific project seeks connect users with other people they can identify with and find needed resources. “We put in a lot of collaboration applications and lots of social networking capabilities.”

To safeguard privacy, the system incorporates data security measures on par with e-health privacy and security standards.

For instance, the hosted environment stores client data at a secure third-party data server not connected with Navantis.

Using the system’s Web 2.0 features, caregivers are able to:

  • Connect with others like them across Canada for information sharing and moral support
  • Create blogs, journals and sites, and make those pages visible to other users
  • Update the portal with information on new diseases and conditions
  • Ask health-related questions to a team of experts
  • Create an e-health record based on the caregiver’s observations and understanding of the patient’s condition
  • Communicate a patient’s health condition directly to doctors and nurses through a discussion board and other Web 2.0 features
  • Experience a sense of belonging through collaboration and support
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