Reducing the coronavirus risk for Saskatchewan lung transplant patients

Lung transplant patients in Saskatchewan can access their healthcare support team virtually while they recover at home. (Northwestern Medicine via AP)

Lung transplant patients in Saskatchewan are at a greater risk for contracting the novel coronavirus due to their compromised immune system.

This is due to immunosuppressant medications that patients take to help prevent the rejection of a donor organ, especially during the first month after a transplant operation, health officials said.

The solution, they say, is providing lung transplant recipients with virtual support at home during their recovery so they can avoid remaining in hospital during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Transplant patient’s pandemic life — family bonding, and hope that lungs come soon

“Home health monitoring allows patients to be active participants in their care, helping to ensure better outcomes,” said Dr. Vern Behl, the senior medical information officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

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“It also helps build capacity in our health-care system, preventing our acute care facilities from becoming overwhelmed, which is especially necessary at this time.”

The SHA and eHealth Saskatchewan have partnered with Telus Health to ensure patients have access to their healthcare team during their recovery.

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Patients receive a daily prompt to report biometrics such as lung function, blood pressure and overall health condition through a mobile device, tablet or desktop computer.

Health-care providers then view the data in real-time on a digital dashboard, allowing them to review crucial patient data, identify any urgent care needs and mitigate risks such as possible infection, incision issues, and/or neurocognitive impairment, officials said.

“With home health monitoring, patients are spared unnecessary trips to the clinic, yet they can continue to be closely monitored by health-care professionals,” said eHealth Saskatchewan CEO Jim Hornell.

“This allows those working on the front lines to use their time effectively to monitor multiple patients, while ensuring patients access to quality care.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 pandemic to affect nearly 400,000 elective surgeries across Canada by mid-June — study

Telus Health, which developed the technology, said home health monitoring has been used by thousands of patients in British Columbia since 2013 to remotely monitor chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and respiratory conditions.

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The company said this has resulted in 81 per cent fewer emergency room visits and 92 per cent fewer hospital admissions.

“As health care needs become increasingly complex, and COVID-19 continues to complicate various aspects of patient care, we are committed to helping Saskatchewan’s health care leaders to continue to deliver quality care to the people of Saskatchewan who need it the most by leveraging our innovative technology,” said Telus Health president Luc Vilandré.

“Enabling clinicians to remotely observe individuals who have just undergone a transplant surgery and are recovering in the comfort of their own home allows for optimal patient recovery and strengthens efforts to keep both patients and clinicians safe during the pandemic.”

Telus Health said the Saskatchewan program will support 60 to 70 people during the lifetime of their transplant.

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The three parties said discussions are underway to expand home health monitoring to people with heart conditions and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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