St. Paul’s Hospital Heart Function Clinic: Virtual Heart

Helping patients manage heart disease online.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a progressive, chronic, terminal disease that has affected over 70,000 people in British Columbia. Of those affected,  more than 15,000 live within the Metro Vancouver area. It is estimated that in reality double that number of individuals are affected and with an aging of the population, CHF will reach epidemic proportions in the years to come. Heart failure is also the most costly chronic disease to treat, costing the province more than $96 million/year.

In 1999, the Heart Function Clinic (HFC) was established at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, part of Providence Health Care. The clinic’s objectives were to reduce mortality and morbidity, reduce cost of patient care, improve patient quality of life, increase patient education, and implement a system to track clinical outcomes in CHF patients.

Connecting patients and health care professionals

OXD was hired to build a web-based system that allows for heart failure patients to self-manage their disease. Patients track their daily weight and answer several questions about their current heart failure symptoms. This system then reports data back to clinical and nursing staff at the Heart Function Clinic, who review and triage the data, along with any alerts generated due to drastic increases in weight or negative answers to the condition questions.

The application launched with a year-long research study of heart failure patients in June 2006, testing the hypothesis that patients can use a web-based system to self-manage their disease, under the shared-care remote supervision of their primary and secondary care providers.

Delivering better care with user experience design

In 2007 the results were presented at the 7th Annual Conference on Successes & Failures in Telehealth in Brisbane, Australia. The study was successful, with patients self-managing and reporting satisfaction with the program. In the years since, the Heart Clinic has continued to expand the functionality and reach of the application, building on the success of past years.

Systems like the Virtual Heart program demonstrate how web-based technologies can improve healthcare through simple, but powerful user experience design. By enabling patients to manage their disease from home, the system improves their quality of life, reduces demands on nursing time, reduces the number of clinic visits and hospital admissions, and therefore reduce health care costs.