Evaluating Virtual Groups at WCH

June 23, 2022
Headshot of PHD Candidate Neesha Hussain-Shamsy

In-person education classes, group therapy and group rehabilitation sessions were all put on pause during COVID-19. However, as Women’s College Hospital (WCH) expanded its offering of video visits early in the pandemic, it quickly innovated to include group virtual visits to support the continuity of care during the pandemic.

But how impactful have virtual groups been on patients? And what has the experience been like for WCH clinicians? As we innovate care models it is essential that we also evaluate them, providing insightful data to enable teams to pivot and adjust care as needed. As a result, researchers at WCH have been hard at work evaluating the hospital’s virtual groups and have started to publish their findings.

Below Neesha Hussain-Shamsy, a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto and WCH, shares her team’s findings from a recent paper – Operationalizing and Evaluating Synchronous Virtual Group Health Interventions: Wide-Scale Implementation at a Tertiary Care Academic Hospital:

1. What is your recent publication about?

We describe the development and implementation of synchronous, group video visits at WCH, alongside our proposed framework for their evaluation. This was a unique endeavor in that WCH developed the capability to offer group video visits across the hospital to any program or clinic that wanted to continue (or start) offering group health interventions when in-person services were put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic. Because this capability was developed and implemented with sustainability in mind, we can continue offering and evaluating group video visits alongside the resumption of in-person clinical care.

2. How were group virtual visits evaluated? What criteria did you include and why?

In our proposed framework, we highlight the importance of evaluating multiple areas related to group video visits, including their implementation, quality, group dynamics, impact and outcomes. This is a broad and comprehensive framework that integrates work on health quality, implementation science, virtual care, and group health interventions. We felt this broad approach was important as, to our knowledge, group video visits have not previously been implemented across an institution at this large scale.

3. What have you found out so far?

Based on our survey of healthcare practitioners who facilitated virtual groups at WCH, most reported they had a good experience as a virtual group facilitator. They found the technology easy to use and noted that running a group virtually was quite feasible for them. Providers highlighted that they want to better understand how the quality of care in video groups compares to that of in-person ones. This important finding will help inform our ongoing evaluation to assess quality of group video visits. We aim to publish the in-depth results of our provider survey in the near future.

4. What work is there still to do as part of this evaluation?

We are now evaluating the impact of group video visits on patients, and we plan to be able to share information soon. To follow up with our findings from our survey of healthcare practitioners, our patient evaluation will also look closely at measures of quality in healthcare delivery. We have not yet been able to evaluate video in comparison to in-person group visits as most groups at WCH are still being run virtually. We hope to be able to include this in future work!

5. Going forward what should WCH and other hospitals keep in mind/learn from the publication?

Looking forward, it is important to remember to think innovatively and sustainably when considering how to provide care to patients. Integrating Zoom with the hospital electronic medical record or EMR (EPIC) opens many potential doors to how we can provide patients with timely, accessible group care beyond the pandemic. At the same time, it is vital to consider evaluation of new programming in order to ensure we are still providing all patients with high quality care, creating positive care experiences for patients and providers, and using hospital resources wisely.

6. How can group virtual visits be improved? What does the future of group virtual visits look like?

As we continue our evaluation, we will be able to better understand what we are doing well in our delivery of virtual groups, and how they can be improved. Our goal is to ensure that the continued, sustainable integration of group video visits into healthcare delivery at WCH is evidence based and continues to promote WCH’s values, including those of equity and quality.