‘Virtual hospital’ treats patients in comfort of home

November 17, 2022

Trent Gahan, a community paramedic who supports the Complex Care Hub, visits a patient at home.

Trent Gahan, a community paramedic who supports the Complex Care Hub, visits a patient at home. Photo by Leah Hennel.

Complex Care Hub an award-winning alternative to traditional hospitalization

Story by Christine Harris | Photo by Leah Hennel

CALGARY — Sleeping in your own bed, eating your own food and taking care of your pets - these are the routine moments that define everyday life for most Albertans. For people in need of hospital-level care, however, they’re comforts that are sorely out of reach. An innovative program is changing that for the better.

The Complex Care Hub (CCH) was first piloted by Alberta Health Services (AHS) in 2018 at the Rockyview General Hospital (RGH) and introduced to South Health Campus (SHC) in 2019. It’s now part of the hospitals’ regular services as it bridges the gap between acute care sites and the community.

“It’s a virtual inpatient unit that allows eligible patients to receive the same kind of care and treatment they would in hospital, but within the comfort of their own home,” says Dr. Michelle Grinman, a General Internal Medicine specialist at RGH, and the originator of CCH for Calgary Zone.

Following admission through the RGH or SHC Emergency Departments, patients who are recovering on an inpatient ward - and who need non-urgent treatment that would otherwise keep them in hospital - are then offered admission to the CCH. While they receive the daily acute care they would have during a conventional hospital admission, unlike traditional inpatients, CCH patients get to live and sleep at home.

For patients like Sarah Halprin, who receives hospital-level care from her home in Calgary, the program has dramatically impacted her quality of life.

“I had never heard of anything of its kind,” says Halprin of the collaboration between physicians, nurse navigators, community paramedics and IT professionals. “I was absolutely blown away that this even existed.”

Under the program, patients’ vital signs - blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, weight - are monitored remotely. Tablets upload this data to a web portal that physicians can access on their laptops. Rigorous safety protocols ensure patients have a direct line to their care team should questions or concerns arise while they’re at home.

"They can see it in real time," adds Halprin. "You can do a consultation with the doctor. So instead of having to go into the hospital, I was able to do that from home. It's incredible."

Similar initiatives - such as Edmonton Zone’s Virtual Hospital - are also in place elsewhere in the province. As for the next phase of the CCH, Dr. Grinman has helped to create a similar home hospital program in Wetaskiwin, in collaboration with a research team from Harvard Medical School.

"The plan is to adapt this type of model to reach other populations," says Dr. Grinman. "That's one of AHS' priorities, not just to serve Calgary and Edmonton, but to also be able to serve rural and remote populations."

One of the most important aspects of CCH is that it doesn’t sacrifice quality of life for quality of care. Praise and recognition came in May 2022 when the program garnered the Patient Experience Award from the Health Quality Council of Alberta.

Dr. Grinman adds with satisfaction: "Patients often use words like, 'I feel safe,' or, 'I'm happier,' or, 'I got to go to my 90th birthday party,' or 'I got to see my niece or my grandchild.' We hear that a lot.”

See a closer look at the Complex Care Hub in a photo essay by Leah Hennel, an award-winning AHS photographer.