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Locally developed platform improving access to patient care

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By: Allison Currie

The Nova Scotia Health Innovation Hub is leading the charge to transform healthcare and improve the health of all Nova Scotians. One of the ways we’re doing that is by activating the right people, ideas, technologies and products to make things better. And that includes collaborating with the team at  Virtual Hallway.

Launched as a pilot in May 2022 and now integrated into Nova Scotia’s healthcare system, Virtual Hallway provides a tele-consultation solution enabling all family physicians and nurse practitioners in the province to easily, and rapidly, connect with specialists for input on complex patient cases. These consultations lead to immediate care plans, easing the overall burden on the healthcare system and ensuring patients get the timely help they need without unnecessary delays or travel.

“In order for us to accelerate the development of new treatments, technologies and solutions that ensure Nova Scotia is able to lead in world-class care, we must move quickly to identify potential solutions,” says Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice President of Research, Innovation & Discovery and  Innovation Partnerships at Nova Scotia Health. “It’s incredibly rewarding to then have those solutions see success in addressing the day-to-day challenges facing our healthcare system as quickly as the Virtual Hallway platform has.”

Under the guidance of the Health Innovation Hub, Virtual Hallway—an idea conceived by three local psychiatrists and developed by an Atlantic Canadian team — has expanded to include over 50 specialties, making it a cornerstone for efficient, inter-professional consultation. An estimated 6,000 Nova Scotians have avoided specialist waitlists due to clinician collaboration on the platform.

And, according to a recent survey:

  • 98% of primary care providers reported that Virtual Hallway increases their capacity to, and comfort in, managing complex care plans in their community;
  • 93% of primary care providers reported that access to Virtual Hallway reduced the time to diagnosis and intervention for their patients;
  • And 99% reported that access to Virtual Hallway enhances patient care in the community.

The platform’s success is a testament to the foresight of the Health Innovation Hub in recognizing and nurturing homegrown solutions that can have a national impact. Thousands of consultations have taken place through the platform. In each of these cases, specialty advice was implemented in patient care immediately, reducing wait times, patient travel, and nearly a thousand hours of administrative work saved for physicians.

“Virtual Hallway has been an incredibly valuable tool that has allowed me to better support primary care providers and enable timely access to subspecialty health care in a system that is already under stress. The platform allows me to connect with primary care providers to efficiently answer questions that might have caused concern for the patient if a consultation was not rapidly available,” says Dr. Matthew Smith, Vascular Surgeon. “Virtual Hallway additionally often provides further value by providing a collaborative space where specialists and primary care providers can work together to develop and implement an interim care plan while waiting for a formal consultation, should it be necessary.”

The clinician community on the platform, including nearly 1,000 of the province’s physicians, has been instrumental in Virtual Hallway's rapid adoption and success. Their commitment to patient care has improved patient outcomes, while creating a culture of collaboration and support.

“In 2020, as a newcomer to the province, Virtual Hallway instantly broadened my professional network, providing access to a wealth of peer relationships and clinical insights,” says Dr. Shan Mathew, a family physician. “Virtual Hallway fosters a sense of connection and collegiality among medical professionals, making it an indispensable tool for family physicians facing the increasing burdens of primary care.”

As Virtual Hallway continues to grow, it showcases the ability of digital technology to bring about meaningful change in healthcare.

“Virtual Hallway has revolutionized the way that Nurse Practitioners deliver care to Nova Scotians. Through collaboration with Virtual Hallway specialists, Nurse Practitioners have the opportunity to optimize their scope of practice, clinical competence, and confidence,” says Melanie Dunlop, President, Nurse Practitioners Association of Nova Scotia. “With the increasing complexity of patients in primary care settings, Nurse Practitioner Association of Nova Scotia members have become reliant on the timely access for 1:1 consultation with specialists. This is particularly relevant for our members working in rural or remote locations.”

Digital solutions, like Virtual Hallway, have been embraced around the world in the past several years, and the broader impact to patients and systems shows even greater promise moving forward.