Modern day healthcare first envisioned in 1962 classic "The Jetsons"

February 7, 2018
A scene from Hanna-Barbera's 1962 animated sitcom, The Jetsons, in which a doctor assesses a patient via videoconferencing technology.

It’s 2062. The world is a futuristic utopia of push-button conveniences made possible by technology. Even visiting the doctor happens virtually via videophone. Such was the premise of the popular American animated sitcom, The Jetsons, which first hit airwaves in 1962. But, as Cardiac Telehealth patients at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) might affirm, the distant future then envisioned by Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons might actually be closer than we think. For Canadian healthcare, maybe it is already here.

Advanced Practice Nurse Erika MacPhee says it is easy to draw comparisons between the animated TV series and the modern world. MacPhee works in the Cadiac Telehealth program at the UOHI. Through her work, she and her colleagues provide virtual nursing support to cardiac patients who live across the country, saving patients both time and money.

Erika MacPhee, Advance Practice Nurse
Cardiac Telehealth

“I get to work with some real George Jetson-like technology,” says MacPhee of her job. “Thanks to the UOHI’s Telemedicine program, patients who live in Thunder Bay can save themselves a 15-hour drive and have a virtual appointment with one of our physicians instead.” Virtual appointments can be coordinated through designated local hospitals or community healthcare centres. Patients are connected digitally to a specialist on-screen who can perform a full set of assessments remotely using equipment in the room.

Heart failure patients can also participate in Telehome Monitoring as well. After discharge from hospital, patients who meet the program’s eligibility requirements are sent home with a D-I-Y care package, complete with intuitive and user-friendly gadgets to help manage their symptoms and monitor vital signs from home. Patients are instructed how to transmit important information about their health back to the Heart Institute where a cardiac nurse monitors the data daily and provides feedback in real-time.

Patients find the program really easy to use and follow. We are able to reinforce self-care, monitor medication compliance, provide support to patients, and ensure all health professionals are kept up to date on the patient’s condition. Telehome Monitoring truly saves lives.

- Erika MacPhee, Advanced Practice Nurse, Cadiac Telehealth Program

In the program’s third arm, the Interactive Voice Response (or IVR) program, automated calls are placed from the Heart Institute to patients to help them manage their disease post discharge. A UOHI nurse monitors each patient’s responses to a series of automated questions and identifies lapses in self-care before major harm can be caused.

“Our goal is really to prevent patients from coming back to the hospital,” says MacPhee. “We do acute monitoring of their vital signs, provide interventions for symptom management, provide self-care education, up-titrate medication according to medical directives and collaborate with referring family physicians all in an effort to keep patients from having to be readmitted to hospital.”      

Data from a 2009 Matched Cohort Study conducted at the UOHI demonstrated re-admission rates in heart failure patients dropped 54% when participating in the program. What’s more: the program is believed to save the Heart Institute up to $20,000 for each patient safely diverted from an Emergency Department visit, re-admission and hospital stay.

The Cardiac Telehealth program started in 1997, only 35 years after The Jetsons’ first episode Rosey the Robot aired in living rooms across the United States. In 2005, the Cardiac Telehealth Department was launched. In its first year of operation, 59 patients were seen by one physician using one Telehealth studio.  Today, the UOHI has two Telehealth studios and a Tel-Rehab program, where patients have access to general cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, electrophysiologists, anesthesiologists, pulmonary hypertension specialists and cardiac rehabilitation programs. The Heart Institute saw over 4,300 Telemedicine patients in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. During that same timeframe, 269 patients were followed using home monitoring devices and over 2,700 patients were followed on the IVR program. 

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is currently working with its partners to develop new and innovative ways to continue to provide “out-of-this-world-class” care for its patients. With modern advances in technology and the prominent use of smart phones and tablets on the rise, the future of healthcare (at least in Canada) seems increasingly digital. Hooba-dooba!

Erika MacPhee and Kathryn Eastwood of the Ottawa Heart Institute talk Telehome Monitoring with CTV Morning Live's Henry Burris.