IT becomes heart of New Brunswick cardiac program

If New Brunswick wants to prove how well its home cardiac care program works, it can offer living, breathing proof.

George Wood, 74, went into the New Brunswick Heart Centre (NBHC) in Saint John,

N.B., for heart surgery on a Friday. The following Tuesday he was back home in Fredericton. This wouldn’t have been possible when the centre opened in 1991, according to heart surgeon James Parrott. The average stay back then was two weeks, but as the NBHC gained experience that number was whittled down to 10 days.

“”But once we got down to eight, seven, six we really had to work very hard at preparing the patient, both pre-operatively and post-operatively, preparing that patient for discharge,”” he said. “”We developed very intense training sessions. Not just for the patient, but also with the care givers.””

Part of that preparation now involves learning how to operate a home care monitoring system. The two-way videoconferencing and diagnostic unit serves as a link between patient and clinicians. Wood credited the system as playing an important role in his convalescence. He said he was apprehensive about leaving the hospital so soon, but found the technology comforting allowing him to recuperate at home.

Wood isn’t the only one. More than 1,100 surgery patients in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have used the system.

Parrott said it had specific design goals when building the unit. More often than not, for example, users and their caregivers would be 65 years old or more, thus probably not very familiar or comfortable with high-tech devices. With that in mind, frills were kept to minimum. To operate, all the patient has to do is plug the system into the phone line, place the electrocardiogram leads on the proper spots, slip the oxygen saturation monitor on a finger and sit in front of the camera. The check is then done face to face over the Internet.

One thing the system hasn’t done is reduce the number of times patients access the health care system post-surgery, but Parrott said fewer patients are re-accessing it in a critical state. And while the New Brunswick government may not be saving any money in this respect, patients are. He said patients are spared the four-and-half hour (on average) trip to Saint John for what usually amounts to a 15 minute visit. When you include travel costs, accommodations, etc., the total comes to about $461.

Krisan Palmer, director of telehealth for the Atlantic Health Sciences Corp., credited the projects success to two elements. One, it found a physician, Parrott, to champion the cause. Two, the technology was more than better for the patients.

“”We had to make sure everyone was happy with the technology and it was very simple and very user friendly and it worked every time,”” Palmer said.

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