A silver lining: How COVID-19 helped reduce TAPMI’s waitlist
Dr. Tania Di Renna
As Ontario went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and placed additional strain on the healthcare system, a surprising silver lining emerged. As clinics rapidly pivoted to virtual care to continue supporting their patients through the pandemic, some even began to see a reduction in wait times.
Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute (TAPMI) is a ministry-funded academic pain program made up of five major pain centres in downtown Toronto, with Women's College Hospital being one of five. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the wait time to see a TAPMI pain physician was just under 100 days. For some, it could be as long as one year before receiving face time with a physician.
When physical distancing measures were put in place, many healthcare services were forced to slow down, such as surgeries and in-patient work. This gave healthcare workers within the TAPMI network the opportunity to focus on work that was able to transition virtually, such as chronic pain assessments. TAPMI quickly ramped up virtual care, which allowed for more patients to be seen in a shorter period. What was the result? In August of 2020, patients' wait time to see a TAPMI pain specialist dropped to 13 days.
Like healthcare centres across the world, TAPMI has experienced challenges brought on by the pandemic and has had to adapt. "Chronic pain patients have really suffered during the pandemic because a lot of the things we've taught them focuses on activity, being social and emphasizes continuing with daily living," says Dr. Tania Di Renna, medical director, TAPMI.
In addition to utilizing digital health to reduce patient wait times, TAPMI has transitioned some of its programs and initiatives online to address some of these concerns. For example, to help patients while they wait to see a physician, TAPMI developed an interdisciplinary education program that went virtual when the pandemic hit. The group program, which is fully funded, is run by a nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapists, social worker, psychologist and pharmacist, who discuss pain education, management, exercises, cognitive behavioral therapy and physiological tools. The team has also set up virtual physiotherapy for lower and upper limb chronic pain.
"This has been a relief for patients who cannot access physiotherapy or gyms due to closures," adds Dr. Di Renna. "We have also developed a series of webinars, covering various pain topics, that have all been posted to the TAPMI website and provide another essential resource patients can turn to."
Looking ahead, virtual care benefits go beyond the pandemic, especially for those who face barriers to in-person care. Reduced wait times, along with the ability for patients to access support remotely, has been a much-needed silver lining during these unprecedented times.