New app for palliative care patients gets a boost with Health Canada funding
New funding will enable expansion of RELIEF – a remote symptom-monitoring app – across parts of Ontario and Quebec.
For patients with palliative care needs, access to care is often constrained by health system resources and a requirement to visit their clinician for assessments. Assessments typically only occur every 4–8 weeks—a delay which can result in otherwise avoidable emergency department visits for patients. More frequent symptom assessments would provide more timely and earlier interventions for patients by their healthcare providers should intervention be required; however, a key barrier to effective symptom management and patient comfort is the lack of real-time symptom status.
Researchers from Humber River Hospital, William Osler Health System, and the Bruyère Research Institute are tackling this issue with RELIEF—an app for the remote self-reporting of symptoms—thanks to $1.4 million in funding from Health Canada. Led by Dr. Martin Chasen, Medical Director of Palliative Care at William Osler Health System and Clinician-Researcher at the Bruyère Research Institute, and Pete Wegier, PhD, Research Chair in Optimizing Care Through Technology at Humber River Hospital, RELIEF will allow patients to regularly report their symptoms online from anywhere while being monitored by their team of healthcare providers.
“We developed RELIEF in partnership with uCarenet Technologies Inc. as an easy method for the remote self-reporting of symptoms by patients to their healthcare providers,” says Chasen. “In a previous pilot study, we found RELIEF to be an effective method for remote symptom reporting for patients with palliative care needs, and that RELIEF reduced visits to the emergency department for a number of patients and led to substantial healthcare cost avoidance.”
Patients report their symptoms on RELIEF daily and healthcare providers receive alerts for any sudden changes in symptom status or worrying trends. These alerts allow for timely acute interventions or close passive monitoring, reducing patient stress through the knowledge that their healthcare provider is monitoring their symptoms. RELIEF can be scaled up across the healthcare system, improving communication between patients and providers while also improving navigation across the continuum of care.
“Thanks to support from Health Canada, we are now able to expand RELIEF to a number of healthcare settings to study its effectiveness as a remote monitoring tool for a diverse group of Canadians,” explains Wegier.
In addition to Humber River Hospital and William Osler’s Brampton Civic Hospital, RELIEF will be implemented with healthcare partners in the North East, North West, and Champlain LHINs in Ontario, and Lakeshore General Hospital in Québec. These sites will allow the research team to see how RELIEF can help serve a number of different populations of Canadians, including the homeless and vulnerably housed, rural and remote communities, Indigenous communities, Anglophones in Québec, and Francophones outside Québec.
In addition to Chasen and Wegier, the RELIEF team includes a variety of research scientists and clinicians, including:
- Dr. Ravi Bhargava, Physician-Scientist at the Global Institute of Psychosocial, Palliative and End-of-Life Care, University of Toronto
- Dr. James Downar, Chair of Palliative and End of Life Care at the Bruyère Research Institute
- Sarina Isenberg, PhD, Chair of Mixed Methods Palliative Care Research at the Bruyère Research Institute
- Bonnie Keating, Clinical Nurse Specialist at William Osler Health System
- Saranjah Subramaniam, the RELIEF Research Project Manager at Humber River Hospital
“Digital health technologies are allowing the clinicians and healthcare professionals to deliver more personalized and proactive care,” says Bhargava.
”We will be able to assess the impact of RELIEF on important patient outcomes such as avoidance of unnecessary trips to the emergency department and associated cost savings, satisfaction with the app, engagement with the app, and connectedness to the healthcare team,” says Isenberg. “Our evaluation of economic outcomes will enable us to determine the impact of RELIEF on the broader health care system and further bolster support to disseminate RELIEF across the province.”
“The COVID pandemic has shown us that virtual and remote care solutions are the future,” says Barb Collins, President & CEO of Humber River Hospital. “Patients with access to RELIEF will no longer be limited in their ability to access high-quality palliative care services as a consequence of their geographic location, socioeconomic status, or healthcare needs. Healthcare provider capacity will also increase, as a single provider will be able to monitor and address the issues of a larger number of patients.”
“Osler welcomes Health Canada’s support of RELIEF,” says Dr. Naveed Mohammad, President & CEO, William Osler Health System. “The development of this innovative app speaks to our commitment to patient-inspired health care by ensuring that patients have convenient access to high-quality care and technology that will enable better health outcomes. We are pleased to have played a critical role in creating the app and look forward to supporting the project team as RELIEF is implemented in other health care settings.”
You can learn more about RELIEF here.
About William Osler Health System
William Osler Health System is a hospital system, which includes Brampton Civic Hospital, Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness and Etobicoke General Hospital, and serves 1.3 million residents of Brampton, Etobicoke and surrounding communities within the Central West region. Osler’s emergency departments are among the busiest in Canada and its Mental Health and Addictions program is one of the largest in Ontario. William Osler Health System Foundation seeks to create a healthier community through giving by inspiring its communities to invest in exceptional health care close to home.
About Humber River Hospital
About Humber River Hospital Humber River Hospital (HRH) is North America’s first digital hospital and the first hospital to implement a Command Centre with a focus on patient flow and patient safety. As one of Canada’s largest acute care hospitals, HRH also operates one of the country’s busiest emergency departments. Committed to compassionate, professional and respectful care Humber River Hospital serves a vibrant and culturally diverse community of more than 850,000 residents in the northwest Greater Toronto Area. HRH operates 722 acute inpatient beds with 3,400 staff, approximately 700 physicians, and over 1000 volunteers. The hospital has formal affiliations with medical schools at University of Toronto and Queen’s University.
About Bruyère Research Institute
Bruyère Research Institute, the research arm of Bruyère, aims to find new ways to maximize quality of life and help people stay and return home. We do this by conducting rigorous, peer-reviewed research and developing and testing new technologies that help people be more mobile and independent. Our focus is largely on improving health care systems, global aging, and finding new ways to care for and treat people. We proudly partner with industry, academia, government and patient/family-led groups, and we always work through an equity lens. Our research strengths are in aging and rehabilitation; primary, palliative, and residential care, memory, and equity and effectiveness.
About uCarenet Technologies Inc.
uCarenet Technologies Inc. is a Canadian based digital health company focused on innovating home and community care. uCarenet’s unique cloud-based platform offers a portfolio of e-health solutions that automates the delivery of home and community care. Including booking, scheduling, and management of caregivers, care coordination and reporting, family home care record, notification and messaging tools, analytics, billing and electronic payment, and virtual patient monitoring. Evidence based solutions for managing the end-to-end delivery of home and community care. uCarenet’s platform is innovating the way home and community care is accessed and delivered, paving the way for person centered home care of the future.
Production of this document has been made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.