Written by Diane Wild, Senior Consultant, Communications and Public Affairs

The Multiple Sclerosis Clinic brings specialized care closer to home.

When Sharon’s multiple sclerosis (MS) progressed to the point she needed a wheelchair, her options for treatment suddenly became very limited. She had previously travelled to Fraser Health’s MS Clinic in Burnaby Hospital to visit a neurologist and specialized nurse, but now she couldn’t get in and out of a car, never mind cope with the long drive. She suddenly felt cut off from the people who had been helping her manage her illness.

Jill Nelson had a solution. The nurse clinician, who has worked at the clinic for 12 years, let Sharon know that a satellite clinic had opened at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

“It was a life-saving experience to be able to go to the clinic closer to home,” said Sharon, who was first diagnosed with MS about 15 years ago.

The Abbotsford clinic had initially operated monthly, then bi-monthly and now weekly as demand increased in the Fraser Valley. As demand increased, Jill and her colleague Anna Kazimirchik were spending a lot of time travelling or with downtime between patients in Abbotsford, away from tasks they could be doing in Burnaby. So with the support and advocacy from the MS Society and the assistance of Fraser Health’s virtual care team for fine tuning, the MS Clinic developed a virtual nursing program using Skype for Business, supporting more than 90 patients since launching last year.

Now, Jill and Anna can see patients in both Abbotsford and Burnaby on the same day, providing education, counselling, monitoring and symptom management in conjunction with a rotation of neurologists who travel to the satellite clinic.  A multidisciplinary team approach remains integral, with the physician easily communicating with the nurses virtually to discuss each patient and plan of care.  An assistant in Abbotsford sets up the equipment and the Skype for Business video for the patient and their escorts and hands out supplemental education pamphlets suggested by the nurse.

“Nurses specialized in MS are few and far between, so virtual nursing allows for highly specialized care even in more remote places,” said Jill. “Plus we had such a bad winter last year, there’s no way we could have done the drive some days.”

She points out that fatigue is one component of MS, so because of the distance some patients would need to arrange to stay overnight. “It’s a disease of young adults, too, so now they don’t have to take the day off work for a half-hour appointment.”

The team is looking at the Abbotsford clinic as a pilot that could be replicated in other communities, with Surrey on the horizon now. The innovative design of the virtual clinic will be presented at an international meeting in the fall.

For further information about connecting patients and providers virtually, contact virtualcare@fraserhealth.ca.

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