Researchers Dr. Noelle Rohatinsky (RN, PhD) and Dr. Juan-Nicolás Peña-Sánchez (MD, PhD) are collaborating on a project to explore virtual care experiences related to managing IBD. (Photos: Submitted)

USask researchers pave the way to accessible health care for those with inflammatory bowel disease

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers from the College of Nursing and the College of Medicine are collaborating to improve the virtual care experiences of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in Saskatchewan.

Digital Health Week in Canada is Nov. 29-Dec. 5—a time to recognize and celebrate the steps taken to create a more connected and collaborative health care system in Canada, including the use of telehealth and virtual health care.

The month of November is also Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month, and the USask interdisciplinary research team’s virtual care focus aims to create more accessible health care pathways for those living with IBD.

Both Crohn’s and colitis cause inflammation in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Damage to the digestive tract compromises the body’s ability to receive proper nutrition, digest food and eliminate waste.

The diseases are considered incurable, and Canada has some of the highest incidence rates in the world.

“Management of this disease requires individuals to have repeated interactions with the health care system,” said Dr. Noelle Rohatinsky (PhD), a registered nurse and associate professor in the College of Nursing and principal investigator on the project. “Using virtual care technologies is one strategy that allows greater access to specialist providers.”

The study will examine virtual care experiences of those living with IBD and the insights of gastroenterologist health care providers in Saskatchewan using an online survey and interviews.

The research aims to assess the level of satisfaction of both patients and health care providers when using virtual care technologies to treat and manage IBD. Understanding the experiences of both groups is integral to informing an understanding of how virtual health care can be improved in the future.

The project will also consider issues of patient access to the appropriate technologies and the importance of providing equitable access to health care specialists.

“By using virtual care, providers can intervene early, prevent direct costs to the health care system, and promote positive patient outcomes.”

The research team includes co-principal investigator and assistant professor in the USask College of Medicine Dr. Juan-Nicolás Peña-Sánchez (MD, PhD), graduate student Jermia Foncham (Department of Community Health and Epidemiology), and a team of nurses, doctors, IBD patients and a patient’s family member. All have used virtual care technologies for disease management.

“Our team will make suggestions to health agencies to promote innovation and access to virtual care services to enhance patient care experiences and virtual inflammatory bowel disease health service delivery within Saskatchewan,” said Rohatinsky.

The project is supported by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation Innovation grant program.

To find out more about Crohn’s and colitis, please visit