Some Central Zone residents are now receiving hospital-level care in their homes following the launch of a pilot project last month.
The ‘home hospital’ pilot project — building on similar Alberta Health Services (AHS) programs that have been established in Edmonton and Calgary — provides eligible patients with safe, hospital-level care in their homes through in-person and virtual supports.
“Alberta’s home hospital programs have provided safe, high-quality care for hundreds of patients in Edmonton and Calgary over the past several years. I’m pleased to see this model starting to expand to smaller communities so, in the years to come, more rural Albertans can receive hospital-level care in their homes,” says Jason Copping, Minister of Health.
Andrea Thain-Liptak, AHS Senior Operating Officer, Rural Acute Care, Allied Health, Primary Care, and Indigenous Health, says many patients prefer to receive care at home than in hospital.
“They can be more active and comfortable in their own surroundings,” she says. “In hospital, patients tend to spend more time in a bed. At home, they move around much more freely. This can be conducive to faster healing times and positive mental health.”
To be eligible for the home hospital program, patients need to meet specific clinical criteria and be admitted to the program by a physician. Once in the program, patients receive remote monitoring from the hospital and regular visits from community paramedics.
So far, five local patients have received hospital-level care at home through this program, which has a capacity to provide care for two patients simultaneously. Without this program, these patients would otherwise need a hospital bed at the Wetaskiwin Hospital and Care Centre.
“This home hospital program is good for patients because they can receive the care they need where they want to be — at home,” says Thain Liptak. “It’s also good for the system because every patient for whom we can safely provide at home care translates into a hospital bed that’s available for someone who needs to be an inpatient and receiving treatment in an acute care environment. That improves the patient experience, as well as health system capacity and efficiency.”
Alberta’s other two home-hospital programs — the Complex Care Hub in Calgary and Virtual Hospital in Edmonton — have supported a steadily increasing number of patients. The two programs had a total of 296 admissions in 2019-2020. That number jumped to 530 in 2020-21, the first year of the pandemic, and to 644 in 2021-22, representing a 118 per cent increase in the numbers of admissions over a two-year period.
“The hope is for this initiative to increase acute care capacity beyond what is possible within our existing physical infrastructure while, at the same time, achieving positive patient outcomes through a different kind of patient experience,” said Thain Liptak. “If successful, this program could be a template for other rural communities across the province and country.”
The program at the Wetaskiwin Hospital and Care Centre is part of a randomized controlled trial testing a model of home hospital care in rural settings.
“We see this model as the future of healthcare,” said David Levine, Ariadne Lab’s Rural Home Hospital lead. “This model presents an opportunity for rural hospitals to begin to move into the digital future, optimize their capacity, and create a more sustainable model of care to better serve their patients.”
During the pilot project, which is expected to last several months, AHS will review and analyze results to determine if the program will continue when the pilot and partnership end.