Your health in your hands: the empowering effect of virtual care

The COVID-19 pandemic gave a boost to the virtual world, with many people realizing that they can not only work remotely, but also receive education and health care services by distance. For 64-year-old Steve Horvath, Island Health’s Community Virtual Care program was key in providing him the knowledge and tools he needed to unlock new levels of healing in his journey with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. 

Horvath’s journey in virtual health care began after he experienced some health issues. Horvath’s doctor in Victoria informed him that both his blood pressure and blood sugar levels were very high and placed him on medication right away. 

Horvath is the first to admit he didn’t know much about diabetes. He was told he needed to cut back on foods high in carbohydrates, like pasta and bread – and so he did, going from one and a half plates of pasta, to just one big plate. In retrospect, he laughs and says it clearly wasn’t enough! After not seeing much progress on the medication, Horvath’s doctor offered another solution, referring him to Community Virtual Care.

Community Virtual Care, formerly called Home Health Monitoring, is a free program that is completely virtual and focuses on education, coaching and remote patient monitoring. Currently, it includes four areas – chronic disease management, palliative support, caregiver support, and acute illness monitoring. Horvath was referred to the chronic disease management program, which provides individualized support and education, as well as a series of seven diabetes education classes delivered virtually.

Jase Rollins, a Community Virtual Care nurse, worked with Horvath during the program.

“What was most extraordinary about Steve’s situation was that things were certainly in a precarious state,” said Rollins. “His blood pressure and blood sugars were quite elevated. Knowing about their potential long-term implications compelled me to support him as best I could.” 

In Rollins’ opinion, it was Horvath’s enthusiasm, coupled with the need to create change that drove his results.

After taking the series of classes called Living Well with Diabetes, Horvath began the monitoring program. At this stage, clients are sent the equipment they may need for the program, including a blood pressure cuff and a tablet to report results. Rollins also encouraged Horvath to get a glucometer to test blood sugar levels. Clients also continue to virtually meet once a week with Community Virtual Care clinicians, including nurses and health care professionals such as a nutritionist and pharmacist. This part of the program typically spans about three months, but in Horvath’s case, it was extended to six months. Together, Rollins and Horvath created a plan that focused on diet and looked at other lifestyle factors like sleep, exercise, stress management, and maintaining other areas of health such as vaccinations to avoid getting sick.

Horvath said having the equipment at home to test his blood pressure and sugar levels himself was an eye-opener and gave him motivation to make necessary changes to see results.

“I’ve seen a lot of deaths in my family, and knowing what people had to go through, I don’t want to be there. That’s what drove me the most. I believe in the medical profession and I could see that I had to do something to help myself,” he said. 

Rollins says Horvath showed tremendous self-discipline at this stage – and the proof was in his results.

“An extraordinary thing occurred,” Rollins recalled. “It almost looked like a plane was landing – there was a peak in his levels and then it gradually came down to a beautifully low level.” 

Rollins added that these results were not from any other interventions or increase to medications, but rather through Horvath’s sustained efforts in addressing lifestyle changes.

“For someone like me who really values those situations where clients are seeing success, his results were extremely gratifying.”

Horvath’s doctor was also very pleased with his results – he was able to stop taking one of the two diabetes medications right away. More recently, Horvath is continuing on the path towards reducing his other medications, or stopping, if possible, as his health continues to improve.

For Horvath, it was the one-to-one support from the Community Virtual Care clinicians that helped the most.

“If it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” he said. “The workshop gave me a lot to digest and when I understood more, a member of the team was able to expand on my lack of knowledge.”

Rollins also acknowledges that Community Virtual Care’s team effort helped move the needle in this case.

“These are not easy changes to make. Our team helped to cement the reasoning of why Steve needed to adhere to this lifestyle,” Rollins said adding, “When we can all work together, we’re going to provide the greatest possible benefits to the clients that we serve. It’s not just a success story for me, or for Steve, but for Island Health.”

Pam Rasmussen, a program manager for Community Virtual Care, said that although the offerings of her team aren’t new, they have seen an uptick in interest since the pandemic. Admissions to the program have increased more than 75% over the last fiscal year.

“I think COVID made people realize there are different ways we can deliver healthcare – virtual care doesn’t replace anything, it’s just another option.” 

Though there has been increased interest in Community Virtual Care, Rasmussen stresses that there are no waitlists to get into the programs and anyone can be referred regardless of whether they have a primary care provider or not.

Referrals to the chronic disease management program and diabetes education classes through Community Virtual Care are accepted through self-referral, or by health care professionals or family members. Clients do not need a primary care provider to participate in this service.

How to register for a Community Virtual Care program:

If you or a family member of the age of 19 have a diagnosis of:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease (CKD) diabetes, heart failure, hypertension; 
  •  mild to moderate symptoms of influenza, COVID-19, heat-related illness, wildfire smoke inhalation; or
  • a progressive, palliative illness; 
  • and you are eligible for Community Health Services, call your local Community Access office (numbers below):

North Island: 1-866-928-4988
Central Island: 1-877-734-4101
South Island: 1-888-533-2273

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