photo: contributed

UBC Okanagan study evaluates virtual educational care

The study looks to bring the healthcare mountain to the patient

With health information just one-click away, it’s not surprising that 70 per cent of Canadians consult the internet before their doctor. And if a patient has to travel to see a physician, the numbers of internet searches increase.

UBC Okanagan nursing researchers are examing the health impact of virtual information compared to in-person delivery. Their latest study, looking at virtual chronic disease education, showed that this approach works equally well, if not better, than the traditional in-office approach.

“Educational support is essential for those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” said Kathy Rush, professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing. “As many patients turn to the internet for information, it is important to validate that this delivery system is effective and that the material is reliable.”

Rush adds that virtual education has the benefit of reaching populations in remote communities or those with limited access to healthcare services.

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“Telehealth and virtual healthcare options offer chronic disease patients unprecedented access to services,” Rush said. “This field is changing quickly and many options are available, such as websites, apps, video-conferences and text messages. However, the best approaches are still unclear.”

To help clarify, Rush and her colleagues, including Robert Janke, associate chief librarian at UBC, evaluated 16 published studies that assessed 2,870 participants from seven countries comparing virtual versus in-person care. Taken together, these studies show that education delivered virtually to patients with chronic diseases was equivalent or more effective than usual care at improving clinical outcomes, disease knowledge, quality of life and use of healthcare.

“These results are encouraging as changes in clinical outcomes are one of the most important quality indicators of chronic disease management,” said Rush.

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She adds that their study showed beginning evidence that the virtual delivery of education reduced trips to health care providers, which in some case resulted in cost savings.

“These are important findings, as chronic diseases account for the greatest proportion of healthcare use and spending,” said Rush.

She suggests that virtual education offers an effective alternative for many patients with chronic disease.

“Virtually delivered interventions offer practitioners a suite of options from which to use.”

The study, published in Patient Education and Counseling was supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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