The Canadian Virtual Hospice provides support and personalized information about palliative and end-of-life care to patients, family members, health care providers, researchers and educators.
The Story of the Canadian Virtual Hospice
In 2001, a group of palliative care leaders gathered to consider whether a web-based platform could address some of the gaps in palliative care in Canada. They recognized that Canadians need a reputable source for finding information and support, whenever they need it, wherever they live.
They envisioned the creation of a “virtual hospice.” A place where:
- People without ready access to palliative care specialists could ask questions of a clinical team specialized in palliative care.
- Families could read articles about managing symptoms, accessing financial benefits, and other topics to help them navigate the health care system and communicate with their local health care providers.
- Health care professionals could easily access tools to better care for and communicate with patients and families.
- Researchers could share their latest findings, allowing front-line health care providers to stay on top of important developments.
These experts found an enthusiastic supporter in Senator Sharon Carstairs. Her invaluable assistance coupled with financial investments by founding partners allowed the dream of www.virtualhospice.ca to become a reality.
The Canadian Virtual Hospice went online in February 2004, with evidence-based information and an e-health pioneering feature called Ask a Professional. For the first time, Canadians had direct access to health specialists online. Since then, Canadians have found a safe place to sort through issues related to death and dying at the Virtual Hospice. The information and support they find here helps make sense in times of confusion, offers compassion in times of isolation, and reassurance in times of anxiety.
Evolution of www.virtualhospice.ca
Each year, visits to the Virtual Hospice continue to climb – from 3,000 per month in 2004 to 25,000 per month in 2008. By the end of 2008, more than 900 questions had been answered by our Ask a Professional Team, which now includes specially trained palliative care physicians, nurses, a social worker and a spiritual care adviser.
More than half the questions to Ask a Professional come from health care providers seeking guidance on complex or difficult cases. The rest of the questions come from patients, families and friends. Every person who submits a question receives a detailed personal response, often with links to local community resources.
As a result of consultations with professionals working in palliative care and the input of visitors, the Virtual Hospice embarked upon a major expansion. In January 2009, the Canadian Virtual Hospice re-launched with new features and articles to improve the service offered to Canadians. One of the priorities has been the creation of an innovation hub to improve the quality of palliative and end-of-life care.
Made up of PallNet, the Researcher Portal and The Exchange, the innovation hub encourages:
- communication and collaboration. PallNet provides free online space for palliative care communities to share information and network. PallNet groups create private networks to store and retrieve documents and interact with community members through wikis, mailing lists, blogs, discussions and live chat. The Researcher Portal fosters collaboration by bringing together palliative care researchers and useful resources.
- dissemination of the latest advances in palliative care. At the Exchange, leaders in palliative care share research findings, best practices, and the latest thinking in improving quality palliative and end-of-life care.
Our goal is to make every Canadian aware of the Virtual Hospice so they can come here in their time of need. Issues of death and dying are still not widely discussed in our society, yet these are the times in our lives when we are most vulnerable and are looking for answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. That is the time when people can turn to the Canadian Virtual Hospice.
Testimonials from visitors demonstrate the value of the interactions visitors have on the site. Striving to achieve high levels of visitor satisfaction will continue to be one of the key benchmarks in evaluating the success of Virtual Hospice. We are committed to continually improving www.virtualhospice.ca to better meet the needs of all Canadians.