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BC Women's Complex Chronic Disease Program converts all visits to Virtual Health

The response to Virtual Health visits has been “overwhelmingly positive and appreciative” in the Complex Chronic Diseases Program at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre.
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​The compliments are rolling in at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre’s Complex Chronic Diseases Program (CCDP). The response comes as the program recently converted 100 per cent of their visits to Virtual Health, using Zoom for Healthcare or the phone. The switch was driven by the need to continue delivering care to patients in response to COVID-19 physical distancing protocols.

“The response from patients has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative,” says Russ Stead, program manager. “We have received numerous compliments on the expertise of our facilitators and the empathy and understanding of our team. Our physicians are also frequently complimented on their skills in working with complex conditions.”
The CCDP provides care for patients from across BC who suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and symptoms attributed to Chronic Lyme Disease. The program has a broad inter-professional health care and administration team of about 30 people – and now the team schedules over 100 patients for a variety of individual and group appointments every day.

“Using telehealth and Virtual Health has improved access for our patients, many of whom have experienced challenges coming to BC Women’s due to their geographic location or related to the symptoms they experience, such as intense chronic fatigue,” explains Russ. 
Since April, staff have settled into a new way of working, with many finding the tools and processes to be increasingly more efficient. 


Challenges to address
But just as there are two sides to every coin, there are still some challenges to address. Russ says some staff are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” – a tiredness associated with online video conferencing, which can require more focus than face-to-face conversations – and finding aspects of work more demanding. Furthermore, for some patients, accessing technology can be difficult or has not been possible. 

“While Virtual Health has improved access for some patients, the inability to perform in-person work has resulted in challenges for those with limited or no access to technology,” he says. “Administratively, the work is more demanding than before as we have multiple systems that do not feed into or in any way talk with one another, so there is increased work to support patient care.”
Patient feedback reflects the benefits of Virtual Health
CCDP clinicians have received positive feedback from their patients: 
  • “I am so glad you are not closed. I was worried that people with chronic illnesses would stop receiving care with COVID-19 going on. Being able to connect with you during this time has made such a difference.”
  •  “I didn’t think having a group visit on the phone would work so well, but I feel relieved to hear from others and to know I am not alone. I felt connected.”
  •  “I am so thankful the Complex Chronic Disease Program offers access to Virtual Health care. With my health conditions, I'm unable to travel long distances as I fatigue very quickly.”
  •  “With Virtual Health, I can connect with the CCDP providers and other people living with the same conditions. I don't feel so isolated and different.”
Russ, along with Edwina Houlihan, senior director, Patient Care Services, and Dr. Luis Nacul, medical director, CCDP, are all very proud of how quickly the staff embraced this change – knowing it helped support access to care.

“It’s very patient-centric and speaks to improved access for patients who have barriers to care,” says Edwina.

BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is the province’s only facility dedicated to the health of women, newborns and families. It is one of the country’s busiest maternity centres, delivering more than 7,000 babies annually, and serves as the provincial resource for high-risk maternity care, as well as the most highly-specialized centre for the largest neonatal intensive care unit in BC. More than 50,000 women are seen annually through its specialized women and family programs, which include world-class services in sexual assault care, medical genetics, HIV care, reproductive and sexual health, maternal substance dependency, osteoporosis and complex chronic diseases. For more information about the Complex Chronic Diseases Program at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, visit the CCDP webpage.

The Office of Virtual Health leads and provides strategic direction for the overall Virtual Health initiative across PHSA. For more information, please visit the OVH webpage or send an email to

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