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An anxious patient, struggling under the weight of the pandemic and personal health conditions.
A woman at the airport, frantic to locate her negative COVID-19 test so she can board a plane.
A senior requiring a little extra care to set up her iPad for easier use.
These are just a few of the examples of the phone calls and emails received by the myUHN Patient Portal Support team, which has seen a dramatic increase in activity during the pandemic.
"MyUHN Patient Portal has become an indispensable 'go to' resource for patients, their family members and caregivers, in a greater capacity, since the onset of the pandemic," says Vas Bakas, Manager. The portal is a secure website for UHN patients to access appointments and results from all UHN sites and Ontario lab results as soon as they are ready, and review their personal health record anywhere, anytime online.
Questions to myUHN Support range from how to register for the portal,
understanding how virtual care at UHN works, and if patients should come to the hospital. Patients call to register for immediate access to COVID-19 test results, check the status of scheduled appointments and treatments, and, where appropriate, get caregiver access to inpatient health information due to pandemic visiting restrictions. UHN's reputation as a centre of excellence led to callers reaching out from across the province with COVID-19 questions and concerns.
To handle the higher demand – from about 1100 queries per month to more than 1700, as well as a surge in registrations – TeamUHN members from other departments have redeployed to join the team. Among them were Mariquita Javier-Brozo, Emma Paisley, and Cathy Macewko from UHN Digital, who spent five months with the myUHN Support team in the Patient Experience portfolio.
"People simply want you to take the time to listen to them, with compassion," Cathy says.
Wide variety of experiences with patients during redeployment
Vas says Cathy, Mariquita and Emma brought a valuable skillset to supporting patient calls and emails. With the pandemic increasing the use of virtual care, they were able to use their strength in technology and clinical backgrounds. They suggested using MS Teams for training, to call patients, and for three-way calls with patients, family members, and/or translators.
Their clinical backgrounds were assets when speaking with patients whether providing technical support, informing them of what they needed to know about COVID-19 and UHN, or simply calming anxieties. The redeployment brought an organic connection of individual skills to this small group, serendipitously forging together towards a common goal of patient-centered care.
Mariquita, Cathy and Emma had a wide variety of experiences with patients during their redeployment.
The pandemic has resulted in an influx of calls from elderly patients wanting to register for the portal, many using a computer for the first time. This can be very frustrating and challenging for the patients and has seen some calls stretch beyond 30 minutes.
One patient needed help beyond a phone call – assistance using her IPAD. The team facilitated a deeper reach into TeamUHN for help, eventually connecting with her physician, who offered to assist the patient at their next clinic appointment to sort out the technical issue. The patient later called to say she "was very grateful for this over-and-above support and relieved to have access to the portal."
"We found ourselves teaching digital literacy to an elderly population," Mariquita says.
Felt like valued members of the team
In another instance, a woman frantically called from the airport, unable to access the myUHN portal. On route to visit a sick relative, she needed to present her COVID-19 results to board the plane. After several calls to different team members, within an hour the issue was sorted and she made her flight.
"Team UHN comes together in the eleventh hour to work out issues," Emma says.
Another example of teamwork came when an anxious patient called myUHN Support. The rest of the team was alerted to the patient's deteriorating mental health condition, and while the person on the phone worked to calm the person, a three-way MS Teams call was organized with a clinician, who was able to de-escalate the situation. A staff member later reflected: "People just want to be heard."
"During this time with myUHN Support, we realized how every UHN staff member plays an important role in the patient experience journey," Cathy says.
Adds Mariquita: "We never felt like outsiders, but rather a valued part of the team."
Emma says: "It was so rewarding to know we were playing a part in supporting patients, families and caregivers during the pandemic through the myUHN support."