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A new model of care in a Virtual Ward

from the April 4, 2011 issue of Connect

A new model of care in a Virtual Ward

At 85 years old, Margaret Paparizos had been healthy her entire life – until an illness last November escalated into problems that required multiple hospital admissions. It didn’t take long for Paparizos to grow tired of the long waits in emergency rooms and constant overnight stays in hospital.

But after her most recent admission, Paparizos was cared for by a trusted team of physicians, nurses and care co‑ordinators. The best part is that she received this care outside of a hospital – all within the comfort of her own home.

Paparizos became a patient of the Virtual Ward program, located at Women’s College Hospital, and designed for patients who are at a high risk of readmission to hospital. The Virtual Ward is a collaborative effort between Women’s College Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital, the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre, University Health Network and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla“The idea is to take the best elements of hospital care – an interdisciplinary team, a shared set of notes, a single point of contact, and 24/7 access – and provide them to patients in the community,” says Dr. Irfan Dhalla, co-lead for the Virtual Ward with Women’s College Hospital physician Dr. Tara O’Brien.

Typically, the Virtual Ward team cares for patients for two to eight weeks after discharge from hospital. For Paparizos and her family, the Virtual Ward provided quality care in a comfortable and convenient way for 15 weeks after her hospital discharge due to the complexity of her case. Throughout the week, the Paparizos home was visited by a nurse, care co-ordinator and physician. The Virtual Ward team took the time to speak with Paparizos’ family about her health concerns and needs, along with co-ordinating all medical details with other health-care providers (including her family doctor) around the family’s schedule. This included everything from ordering medication at the drugstore, to arranging appointments for blood work.

After being admitted to the Virtual Ward, Paparizos’ quality of life improved and her family became more confident in their ability to care for her.

“It’s comforting to know that a health professional can come to my house at any time to help with a problem,” says Paparizos. “I’m confident that I’m in good hands as a patient in the Virtual Ward.”

The Virtual Ward team meets daily at Women’s College Hospital to co-ordinate the care of each patient. The team consists of a physician (who rotates every three weeks), two care co-ordinators, a part-time pharmacist, a nurse and a clerical staff member. The team thoroughly discusses not only each patient’s medical concerns but also their living situation and social circumstances. Once patients have a stable plan, they are “discharged” from the Virtual Ward so that new patients can be “admitted.”

Dr. Gillian Hawker“The Virtual Ward is a leading innovation in ambulatory care, and marks a milestone for Women's College Hospital as we partner with in-patient hospitals to keep people at home and out of hospital,” says Dr. Gillian Hawker, chief of medicine at Women's College Hospital. “Since the Virtual Ward was launched last year, we have cared for over 270 patients who have experienced a whole new model of care.”

Along with reducing readmissions to hospital, an important goal of the Virtual Ward is to ensure that a patient’s needs are met in a positive, supportive environment. For Paparizos’ daughter, Kathy, the Virtual Ward helped hold the family together at an emotional time in their lives: “As a family, we were very worried for my mother. But the Virtual Ward team gave us the peace of mind that they would be there for us – and they were. They continue to be.”


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