During the COVID-19 pandemic, health-care providers across Saskatchewan quickly adopted new methods to safely connect with patients through virtual care – from phone calls to video chats.
Now, as Saskatchewan continues to see a sustained jump in virtual care services, the government is looking to develop a long-term provincial strategy.
To help create this roadmap for delivering integrated and patient-centred virtual care as part of regular equitable health services, a team of clinical and research experts from USask has been awarded $150,000 by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) through a collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Health to further virtual care in Saskatchewan.
This collaborative team of 19 researchers, knowledge users and policy makers will work with the Ministry of Health and is funded by SHRF under its Solutions Program. This program aims to mobilize the research community and knowledge users to focus and co-ordinate the diverse skills and perspectives of its members to address Saskatchewan health challenges and implement research in real-world, practical settings.
Mendez is the provincial head of surgery and director of the Remote Presence Robotics Laboratory. The team’s co-principal investigators are Dr. Paul Babyn (MD), physician executive, Provincial Programs, SHA, Dr. Caroline Tait (PhD), Métis medical anthropologist and knowledge user, Dr. Vern Behl (MD), SHA senior medical information officer, and Dr. Stacey Lovo (PhD), faculty member in USask’s School of Rehabilitation Science.
A key strength of the project is assembling an extensive list of co-investigators to ensure the framework is based on principles of appropriateness and equity, and that it provides metrics and an evaluation structure to assess its effectiveness.
These members provide expertise in pediatrics and working with Indigenous populations and bring in-depth knowledge of health informatics and computer science. They have experience in delivering services related to mental health and addictions, dementia, and infectious disease, and knowledge of health law, policy, and more. Rounding out the team are people who have experienced barriers to health care access and have received virtual care.
Through complementary methods, the team will review existing literature, survey stakeholders, analyze health databases to better understand virtual care use, and conduct transdisciplinary knowledge-exchange workshops.
This work will help in implementing a virtual care strategy that responds to the needs of urban and rural populations, increase health system capacity, reduce costs, promote collaboration, enhance the patient/provider experience, and improve the health of Saskatchewan citizens.
“Virtual care has greatly improved patients’ access to their doctors and other care providers, especially during the pandemic. I’m delighted that Dr. Mendez and his team will help inform a long-term strategy for delivering health services remotely to Saskatchewan people.”
- Health Minister Paul Merriman
“We are very excited about this important project, and we have assembled a unique transdisciplinary team of experts working in virtual care. The collective experience and expertise of its members makes this team a provincial resource. Virtual care is expected to expand and be key in the delivery of health care in the future. This project will provide a roadmap for its implementation in the province and bring Saskatchewan to the forefront on the use of this technology.”
- Dr. Ivar Mendez, principal investigator, provincial head of surgery and director of the Remote Presence Robotics Laboratory
“SHRF is uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of Saskatchewan people by investing in solutions to our provincial health challenges. By offering this opportunity for researchers to work with system partners and enabling this team of experts to co-ordinate their knowledge and efforts, we are confident the results will lead to actionable outcomes for the benefit of Saskatchewan people.”
- Patrick Odnokon, CEO, Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation
“The pandemic has driven an increased need for patients across the province to be able to connect with their care providers in new ways. The strength and diversity of this team that will continue to develop and validate these new tools is reflective of Usask’s innovative and collaborative research environment. We are grateful for SHRF’s investment in this team that will lead us to discovery the world needs.”
- Baljit Singh, Vice-President Research, University of Saskatchewan