Virtual Care Tips and Tricks

Contributors include OntarioMD Practice Advisor Tania Hunt with recommendations from OntarioMD Physician Peer Leaders from our Virtual Care Webinar Series

This is part two of our blog series on virtual care for clinicians. Check out part one on Virtual Care: Preparing your staff and notifying your patients here.

In part one, we discussed setting up your practice for a virtual care environment, preparing your staff and notifying patients. With your practice set to go, and everyone prepared, let’s review some of the different virtual care options you may wish to consider for your practice.

Telephone visits are the easiest virtual care platform for most practices and will be part of your virtual care toolkit. All patients have access to a phone and do not need any instructions on how to use it. Phone visits are quick to set up, and do not use internet bandwidth. Remember to always use a private number when calling patients that will not be visible on the phone’s call display. To maintain privacy on the patient’s end when you call, ask them if they are able to speak to you privately without being overheard.

It is important that your staff tell the patient that when you call at the agreed-upon time, their phone will display ‘unknown caller’ so the patient knows to answer the call. When speaking to a patient, always confirm the patient identity.

If the patient needs lab work/DI, determine if it is really necessary or if it can be delayed to limit the patient’s exposure during COVID-19. If you and the patient both feel it is absolutely necessary, have the patient follow up with a lab to schedule an appointment.

When it comes to other virtual platforms, if it is difficult for you, it will be difficult for the patient and you will become tech support for them so pick a platform that you and your team understand and can operate smoothly. Purchase necessary equipment such as back-up headsets with built in speakers and a desktop camera. If possible, work with two laptops, one with the EMR and the other with the video visit tool (OTN, etc.). If multiple screens are not an option, leverage your smart phone for the virtual visit and keep your computer for the EMR. Remember, for both phone and video visits, you will need the patient’s consent before you begin the visit. See part one of this blog series for how to obtain consent.

When you start the video visit, it is always reassuring for the patient  to have a quick scan of the room you are in so they see no one else is in the room while you communicate with them and their privacy is preserved. Ensure the patient’s privacy and security on their end as well. Ask questions like “Are you in a quiet room?” “Can you hear me properly?” “Is anyone else hearing this call?” “Do you feel safe having this discussion?” Look into the camera, not the screen, when asking questions. If a video visit does not work, revert to the telephone.

How can video visits be most helpful? They are especially valuable for patients with mental health issues. Connecting with them in their own home can be a more positive experience and put the patient at ease. Video visits are also helpful for patients with rashes, burns, cellulose, etc. Use an app with imaging capabilities to capture an image of the patient’s issue for tracking and uploading to the patient chart for comparisons during future visits.

Video visits are a great way to learn more about patients by seeing their home, and meeting pets and family members. This will put patients at ease before you start the visit. Remember to always hang up the phone or disconnect the camera after a virtual visit. Turn the camera off when not using it or use a webcam blocker to avoid any unwanted visibility of your surroundings.

Be on time for your virtual appointments. The patient is not in the waiting room so they will not know if you have forgotten them or if you are behind. Be considerate of language barriers, and if you can, leverage a medical translation service during visits. This can be achieved by 3-way tele-conferencing, 3-way video conferencing, or having the patient on video and the translator on speaker phone. Regardless of the approach, consent should be obtained from the patient to use a translator and documented in the chart.

Some other tips for using virtual care in your practice:

  • For specialist referrals, consider using eConsult instead of sending a referral by fax. You can get a response from the specialist in about two days and sometimes within hours. eConsults also helps avoid unnecessary visits (in-person or virtual) for patients.
  • If your EMR allows for ‘stamps’, use them to prevent typing the same messaging repeatedly.
  • Doing group visits? Google Hangouts for psychotherapy or used with diabetes patients works well and is free. You can conduct a video call with up to 10 people. A virtual environment can work well when patients who do not like talking or leaving their homes see other patients with similar issues.

Virtual visits are not appropriate for all patients. You will want to see some patients in person during COVID-19. You and your staff should be in full PPE when you are in the office. Our clinician Peer Leaders recommend that you try to set up your schedule so that vulnerable patient populations (prenatal, well-baby, geriatric, immune-compromised) come in only during protected time slots so that the risk of exposure to potential COVID-19 patients is limited. For more information on virtual care and tools to consider and other useful resources, visit OntarioMD.News, . For questions about a specific tool on this site, please contact the vendor directly. If you have any general questions about using virtual care tools, please contact support@ontariomd.com

Virtual Care: Preparing your staff and notifying your patients

Contributors include OntarioMD Practice Advisor Tania Hunt with recommendations from OntarioMD Physician Peer Leaders from our Virtual Care Webinar Series

With the onset of the COVID-19 , clinicians have quickly adapted to physical distancing with their patients and using virtual care to avoid unnecessary trips to the office. You may decide to make this change in how you practice medicine an ongoing option for your patients beyond the current global pandemic.  The change to a practice that offers virtual care options can be done easily and efficiently by selecting a virtual care platform that’s right for you and your patients. There are many virtual care tools on the market and the choices may seem overwhelming. OntarioMD has facilitated your review of virtual care tools available to Ontario clinicians by bringing them all together in one convenient spot, OntarioMD.News. This site contains lists virtual care tools for video visits, direct-to-patient interactions, virtual clinics, EMR-integrated tools, and more. The tools have been curated, but not endorsed by OntarioMD. Please contact the vendors directly for product-specific questions.

You may wish to delegate the task of finding a virtual care platform to one of your staff who will also be using the tools and you can also ask your family and friends for recommendations. Involving staff is an opportunity to keep them feeling needed and invested in any new tools for your practice. A critical success factor for virtual care is being able to network with colleagues on similar platforms for support and advice so you may wish  to select tools that colleagues in your social network, study groups, etc., are using.

The transition to offering virtual options might be challenging for some staff. You can leverage Zoom or similar platforms to train staff on the benefits of the virtual tools. You may also want to consider an Interactive Voice Response (IVR)system to route phone calls for staff working from home.

Before you adopt a virtual care tool, a good idea is to keep your schedule flexible when you start using it and until you and your staff get used to the tool. This will help to ease stress, give you and your staff space and plenty of time to learn from using virtual care tools. You can see what works well and how your patients like the tool.

One of the most frequent requests from patients is for online appointment booking. Online booking is a great way to introduce your practice and your patients to virtual care tools. Check out the options for an online booking platform. Online appointment booking will cut down on phone calls asking for appointments. This frees up your staff to do other things. You should allow for some same day appointments, and leave only options video or phone options for the patient to choose from. Work with a nurse or your admin to triage who you need to see vs. who you can treat over the phone or eVisit.

So you’ve prepared yourself and your staff to use virtual care tools. Now it’s time to notify your patients that your practice has gone mostly virtual. Your staff can implement the IVR and voicemail system so patients are informed that your clinic has gone virtual when they call. If your staff are booking appointments over the phone, ensure they ask the patient what virtual platform they would like to use (phone or video). If they are booking an appointment from your website, change your website to only show the video visit or phone visit options. Let patients decide which technology they are most comfortable with. Once an appointment is booked, have staff confirm the patient phone number and email so you have the most up-to-date information. It’s also a good idea at this point to obtain the patient’s consent in advance of the virtual encounter. This can be done by admin staff.

A consent statement that your admin can read to patients over the phone was prepared by OMA and OntarioMD Legal teams and vetted by the CMPA.  It should be posted on your website and in your office for your patients to read. You can also obtain consent by email. In both cases, record consent for each patient in your EMR. Instructions for how to obtain consent to initiate a virtual care encounter and the consent statement are available on OntarioMD.News.

If you use Facebook, a newsletter or another method to communicate with your patients, try and get the word out on how patients can reach you and provide links to resources if they have traveled outside of Canada or think they may have developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Search your EMR for patient email addresses and send a mass communication to notify patients of clinic updates, COVID-19 updates and that they can email you. This “keeping the door open” approach has proven to be popular with patients.

All the best as you move forward with your virtual practice.

This is part one of a two-part blog. Part two will focus on virtual care tips and tricks.

Dear Doctor, your computer can help you with time management

Author – Dr. John Wyatt Crosby, OntarioMD Physician Peer Leader

John Crosby

As an OntarioMD Peer Leader, I act as an efficiency expert for family doctors. OntarioMD Peer Leaders are a network of over 60 physicians, nurses and clinic managers across the province who are expert users of OntarioMD-certified EMRs and are available to help physician practices realize more clinical value from their EMRs. Peer Leaders usually get a referral by word of mouth from other doctors or OntarioMD practice advisors talk to the doctor’s staff and tell them an OntarioMD Peer Leader can help for free. The Peer Leader will help the doctor to become more comfortable with the computer and EMR software.

I help prepare for my visit to the doctor by sending the doctor my free eBook on time management (email me for your free copy at drjohncrosby@rogers.com). I ask them and their staff to read it. They can also hear it on audio book hands free while driving. It is on YouTube and you can listen to it using Bluetooth. I then book a two hour meeting with the doctor in his/her office without interruptions. No phones or patients.

I ask the doctor what his/her goals are. Some want to improve patient care, cut paperwork and learn how to utilize their computers better.

Some want to work less and earn more.
Some want to cut stress and avoid burnout.
Some want to avoid malpractice and college complaints.
Some want to improve billing.
Most want all of the above.

I get them to describe a typical week. When do they get up? When do they go to work? I look at their patient appointments in the computer. How many per hour? How many coffee breaks? How much time off for lunch? When do they get home? What do they do at night, on weekends and holidays? Do they take work home? Do they do office work on their laptops in the off hours?

I then walk them through their computer. Many doctors don’t realize how much time the computer can save them and how it can improve patient care. I click on everything to show all the tools. For example, with capitated practices paid a set amount every month like Family Health Organizations (FHOs) and Family Health Teams (FHTs), I find almost all have not rostered all their patients leaving tens of thousands of dollars unclaimed yearly. They usually tell me their staff is too busy, and being doctors (like me), they are too cheap to pay a high school student $14 per hour to do this on a weekend. They often work through breaks and lunch and get home exhausted at 7:00 pm risking their marriages and relationships with their kids and friends.

I show them how to use the computer to write consult letters, graph weights and heights and use stamps or templates to type faster and more thoroughly. I often get push back on this as ‘cookbook medicine’. I tell them that the best chefs use a cookbook. Also, the Rourke Baby scale is a stamp as are the Ontario Prenatal Forms.

I show them how to use ‘Find notes containing only’ to find MRIs and CT scans.
I show them the absentee note feature.
I show them how to click on the left side of the chart to have a green bar come up that they can attach to consult letters.
I show them how to double click on an existing medication to reorder it.
I show them how to double click on a lab value to get a trend which can be printed off and given to the patient or specialist.
I show them how to cut and paste for repeat visits for the same problem.
I show them how to load and use the handout function.

After 2 hours, their heads are exploding so I send them a brief email a week later with a summary of my recommendations. I then set up a phone chat weekly for 1/2 hour at 8:00 am or noon to go over each recommendation.

I find that the use of stamps is the biggest time saver for doctors. It also improves quality because it encourages the doctor to be more thorough and not forget anything.

Here is a recent example (some items changed to ensure privacy):

The OntarioMD Practice Advisor for Waterloo Region, Sunny Hayer, emailed me with a request from a doctor with 10 years of practice who was buried in paper. Sunny and I set up a 2 hour meeting on a Wednesday morning at 9:30 am. Sunny met with the clinic staff and I met with the doctor. I asked her what her problems were, and she pointed at her desk which was buried in paper. Also, her computer was chock full of lab results and imaging.

I got her to describe a typical week in her life. She got up weekdays at 6 am and took her two young kids to school at nine and she started at 9:30 am in her office. She took no breaks and at 1:00 pm she grabbed a sandwich and ate it in 10 minutes, then went back to seeing patients. She worked until 7:00 pm then had a reheated supper alone (the kids were fed by the nanny at 5:00 pm). Her husband got home at 6:00 pm. She then did computer work from 8:30 to 10:30 pm, collapsed into bed and got back up again the next day at 6:00 am like in the movie Groundhog Day. She did this 5 days a week. The weekends were all about getting caught up on cleaning and laundry. She was exhausted and rarely had time to enjoy herself, her husband or kids. She was using her office computer like an expensive typewriter.

My solution:

I told her to read my eBook (reminder to email me for a free copy) on time management. She didn’t have time, so she listened to it in her car while driving to work. It comes in eight 10 minute chunks.

When she got to her office, she loaded in stamps for the top 10 most common problems seen in her general practice. This helped her stay on time with her patients. She had a 10 minute break at 11:00 am to go for a walk around the block. Lunch was blocked out in her computer appointment screen at 12:30 pm for one hour with the phones on answering service to give her staff a break too. The last appointment in the morning was booked at 12:00 noon.

The last patient was booked for 4:30 pm and she was home at 5:00 pm to have dinner with the kids. Her husband arranged to be home by 5:00 pm too. Computer and paperwork were done from 12:30 to 1:30 pm daily in her office. She got caught up on her backlog of paper and computer work by coming into the office one time at noon on a Sunday and working with no distractions until 6:00 pm. Her smart phone calendar and office patient appointment list has an appointment booked with herself from 12:30 to 1:30 pm weekdays for paper and computer work. Her off hours are free. No work texts, calls or emails. She hired a home cleaning service and now she has time for her husband, their kids and herself. She has a night out alone with her friends every Thursday night. She hired a high school student to roster 500 patients which earned her $50,000 more per year by paying out $14 per hour x 40 hours or $560 – not a bad return on investment.

Computers can help doctors improve patient care and office efficiency. You don’t have to do it alone. Contact OntarioMD (support@ontariomd.com) and ask for help from a Peer Leader.

Integration and Enterprise Primary Care: A Point of View

 

Paul

Author – Paul Sulkers, Healthcare Consultant

The COVID crisis is placing huge demands on the Ontario health system, with a heavy reliance on acute care, perhaps our last line of defense. COVID has also brought in to focus the need for strong primary care and population health management, as we seek better ways to assess and manage COVID patients, many with other health or social challenges. To achieve population health, we need a health system that is integrated from a consumer perspective, understanding their needs and tailoring strategies to improve the health status of the entire population.

We understand that population health management must be enabled by primary care and consumer engagement, and we understand the policies needed for integration[↓1][↓3]. However, we have launched an OHT strategy that integrates around hospitals, fragmenting primary care into regions, and challenging consumers affiliated with multiple OHTs [↓4]. Our OHT approach also lacks the ability to scale investments, such as Toronto’s SCOPE, [↓5] or Sunnybrook’s “One-Team” [↓6] which could be classified as the ‘right idea’ in the ‘wrong place’, trapped within OHTs. Under the pressures of COVID, there is a natural tendency to fall back on OHTs as the ‘right path’, reinforcing acute-centric culture [↓18] rather than building capacity with primary care and consumer engagement to manage population at the front lines.

We can learn from others. Leading jurisdictions have invested in primary capacity, scaled across entire populations, and are now reaping the benefits of a seismic shift in the way that health is managed, funded and measured [↓7][↓13]. Spain established a population health strategy for Catalonia, segmenting their population into 320 risk categories [↓10]. Denmark reduced the number of acute hospitals from 98 to 36, shifting funds from acute to primary care [↓11]. The NHS uses community outreach and partnerships with the post office, re-defining health as a “team sport” to better manage the elderly closer to home [↓13]. In the US, Kaiser Permanente has created an integrated care delivery model that emphasizes preventive care and management of chronic disease [↓12]. Geisinger utilized centralized clinical leadership across enterprise-scale primary care, reducing costs per patient by 11% over five years, and reducing avoidable readmission rates by over 35% [↓8][↓9].

In all cases, enterprise-scale primary care was key, recognizing primary care’s critical role to be consumer-facing and leader of population health management. Enterprise-scale means moving from individual practices to integrated primary care governance, including standard care models, shared resources including virus surveillance capacity, paediatrics and palliative care, and partnerships with home care to manage care closer to home. Enterprise data enables central physician leadership to develop new funding models, addressing cohorts with similar risks, co- morbidities, and social determinants. Consumers view an enterprise or integrated system, including their care plan, educational content, health reminders, appointments and referrals.

A critical enabler of their enterprise primary care was a shared EMR, with the ability to scale care models and process, enable jurisdiction-wide view of population data, and a single digital view for consumers regardless of their residence [↓14]. Clearly, Ontario is not going to move to a single EMR any time soon! However, we can learn from other industries who have used digital process automation to integrate the ‘front’ end of the enterprise across a variety of disparate IT systems. Digital process automation will allow the fragmented Ontario health IT landscape to ‘appear’ integrated, shifting from variable and open loop process (using fax, phone and pagers) to digital processes that are patient-centred, closed loop, and measured, evidenced by Toronto’s ConsultLoop [↓14] [↓15].

Digital process automation across our primary care practices will enable enterprise status, including the ability to scale innovation across the entire population. Supported by outcome measures and innovative funding models, primary care will leverage shared resources and partnerships with home care and community services to better manage complex patients closer to home. Enterprise primary care will engage consumers via ‘extended reach’, moving knowledge to the patient, and reducing patient administration costs via the ‘healthcare manager’ in each household [↓14]. Social distancing has exacerbated the importance of communication and extended reach, not only with providers, but also among families, split apart by COVID.

Enterprise primary care will also achieve increased productivity by leveraging healthcare AI, including virtual care, predictive early warning, digital assistants, as well as digitally supported case managers [↓16] [↓17]. Increased productivity will free-up clinical resources to focus on in-person care, critical to manage patients drifting towards high cost cohorts.

However, digital is not the core competency of our health system. We must leverage the Canadian private sector to invest in enterprise primary care, pulling Ontario in to the 21st century. Private sector has the know-how gained from other industries successfully addressing similar integration challenges. Importantly, Ontario’s health digital expenditures must become an investment to build a new digital health & health AI economy in Ontario [↓14].

Together with private sector, we must start with enterprise primary care to integrate the ‘front-end’, ensuring consumers see a seamless view of Ontario healthcare, regardless of any OHT-defined relationship. COVID-19 presents a watershed moment to either continue acute-centric models or invest in enterprise primary care, at scale – rapidly!

References

1. World Economic Forum; Value in Healthcare Project

2. Peggy Leatt, George H Pink, Michael Guierre, Towards a Canadian Model of Integrated Healthcare, March 2000

3. Dr Robert Bell, August 2019

4. A Healthy Ontario

5. UHN’s SCOPE

6. Sunnybrook Case Study

7. Primary Care Patient Centred Collaborative

8. D Maeng et al. “Can Telemonitoring Reduce Hospitalization and Cost of Care? Geisinger’s Experience in Managing Patients with Heart Failure”. Journal of Population Health May 2014

9. Geisinger Case Study

10. Catalonia Spain

11. Denmark: Australian Financial Review

12. Kaiser Permanente Integrated Care Models

13. Jersey Post – Call and Check Program

14. Sulkers, P. “Integrating Ontario Healthcare: A POV”

15. ConsultLoop Case Study

16. Case Management: Mobiheatlh News, David Muoio, January 4, 2018

17. Productivity of Case Management: AHIP blog, Darcy Lewis, January 25, 2018

18. COVID-19 Assessment Centre

 

 

 

 

Virtual care tools for physician practices to help practices contain the spread of COVID-19

HOW TO GET ACCESS TO VIRTUAL CARE TOOLS

OntarioMD recognizes the pressures that a public health outbreak puts on physician practices and the health care system and is working with the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), the Ministry of Health, Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) and EMR vendors to inform physicians about the value of virtual care to help practices contain the spread of COVID-19 and manage the additional demand for patient care.   

In addition to Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) Direct-to-Patient Video Visits (through OTNinvite) and Hosted Video Visits (in a health care setting),  your OntarioMD-certified electronic medical record (EMR) may also have virtual care capabilities you can leverage during COVID-19 outbreak. OntarioMD is working with vendors of certified EMRs to identify these services and facilitate your access to them and will update the following resources list as more information becomes available:

For more information on other virtual care tools available to assist physicians, please visit:

OntarioMD-Certified EMR
EMR Vendor
Virtual Care Capability

EMR Advantage®

Canadian Health Systems Inc. (CHS)
Insig – A virtual care solution that directly integrates with EMR Advantage and allows a medical practice to offer phone, video and messaging appointment to patients.


Accuro® EMR
QHR Technologies Inc.
Medeo – An integrated digital health patient engagement tool available as a mobile app or web-based tool. Medeo enables patients to use their mobile devices to securely message their provider, attend virtual calls, and book appointments with their providers using Accuro. 
Online Booking – Gives your patients power over their own time while securely managing yours. Spend less time on the phone and more time running your practice.
Secure Patient Messaging – Message your patients from Accuro EMR. Share comments, results, and documents. Messaging is ideal for follow-ups, lab result reviews, and post-op consultations that don’t require an in-person visit. Only providers can initiate and close a message thread.
Secure Video Visits – Provide video appointments for chronic care, injury and pain management follow-ups, include other providers, and securelyreduce barriers due to distance or patient mobility issues.
OSCAR McMaster – Professional Edition
WELL EMR Group Inc.
VirtualClinic+ – Can be used by physicians operating on any EMR platform. If you are a physician or clinic operating on an OSCAR EMR, VirtualClinic+ provides additional capabilities that allow you to operate your telehealth practice in a manner that is fully integrated with your EMR.

A Decade at OntarioMD: Progress from Paper to EMRs

OntarioMD Practice Advisors

Contributed by Mary Lou Fleming and Diane Ricordi, OntarioMD Practice Advisors

In early 2020, two of OntarioMD’s longest-serving Practice Advisors shifted into retirement. As key members of OntarioMD’s hands-on practice support team since 2009, Mary Lou Fleming and Diane Ricordi have had a first-hand view of the impact of digital health’s evolution on primary care practices, patients and the system as a whole. As OntarioMD celebrates its 15th anniversary, we asked Mary Lou and Diane to share some of the memories and insights they’ve gained through working at OntarioMD.

Our participation in OntarioMD’s work and evolution began in 2009 with electronic medical record (EMR) funding. The EMR Adoption Program launched by the provincial government and administered by OntarioMD provided the support for Ontario’s physicians to establish themselves in the developing digital health space. For us and our fellow OntarioMD Practice Advisors, the adoption program represented an opportunity to use our practice knowledge to help clinicians through this transition.

There were untold hours of face-to-face interaction – change management sessions, workflow reviews and countless signed documentation and agreements. Most of the physicians and practice staff in our region met with us in hotels in groups, coming together to learn about the value EMRs held for their practices and patients, and to sign up for funding to get an EMR in their practice. Our roles were complemented by our colleagues in the field and at OntarioMD’s head office. Together, we assisted the province-wide transformation of practices from paper-based to EMR-driven. And our efforts were wildly successful; In 2009 45% of community-based physicians in Ontario had an EMR, and by 2016 that percentage increased to 85%.

Over the past 10 years, OntarioMD’s Practice Advisors have spent countless hours in clinicians’ offices and clinics, helping  them understand and connect to OntarioMD-developed products and those we deploy on behalf of our partners, and enabling clinicians’ growth in the effective use of digital health care. OntarioMD’s growing team of “boots on the ground” allowed us to provide the support needed to make the transition and adoption of these products and programs as seamless as possible for clinicians and their staff.

OntarioMD’s highly respected and valued Health Report Manager (HRM) was the catalyst for hospital reports integrated with EMRs and continues to play a leading role in digital health in Ontario. Our ongoing facilitation and support of services such as the Ontario Laboratories Information System (OLIS), ConnectingOntario ClinicalViewer and eConsult are just a few of the other game-changing initiatives we deployed in physician practices. And there are bigger and better things to come – eConsult EMR integration, the Insights4Care Program and more – as EMRs become integrated with other provincial digital health assets.

As health care workers throughout our careers, patient care has always been our focus. Working for OntarioMD allowed us to continue with that objective over the past 10 years. As we head into the next phase of our lives, we will continue to closely follow the evolving challenges and opportunities in health care and the ongoing important work of our OntarioMD colleagues.

OntarioMD Works with Dixon Hall to Give Back

OntarioMD employees at Dixon Hall

Contributed by Mavis Jones, OntarioMD Manager, Business Insight & Evaluation

Working in the health sector can be a source of pride. Everything we do at OntarioMD helps over 17,000 clinicians across the province effectively use the digital health tools in their practice, which in turn helps patients access responsive care and live healthier lives.

In any job, however, there are days when the connection between the work and its meaning can seem tenuous at best. A great antidote for those days? Volunteering for an organization that helps build a stronger community, like Dixon Hall’s Meals on Wheels program. Dixon Hall has been OntarioMD’s charity of choice for more than year, and as we heard from CEO Mercedes Watson at our December 2019 Town Hall, our contributions to the organization are making a tremendous difference – and not just with Meals on Wheels, but with the wide range of Dixon Hall programs and services that impact housing, children and youth, employment and other key factors that are so important to full and equitable participation in a community.

A team of OntarioMD employees set out from our office in Toronto one sunny Thursday afternoon this month to walk to Dixon Hall. We were warmly welcomed by staff, given some ground rules and then provided with insulated bags filled with hot meals to deliver to seniors across the downtown Regent Park community.

As those who work in the health space know, seniors are over-represented in complex chronic conditions, which for many means mobility issues, dietary challenges, and vision or hearing limitations that may prevent them from getting out to access healthy food (or even just preparing their own meals). Meals delivery services like Dixon Hall’s Meals on Wheels not only provides people with affordable, nutritious meals; for some, the volunteer delivering the food may be the only face they’ll see all day, so it’s an opportunity to connect, check in and make sure all is well.

Our driver went through our route list and gave us key advice and insights like “if they’re not home, leave it in the building’s office,” “this client appreciates the opportunity to chat,” and “don’t take the stairwell because you won’t have a fob to get out.” Like a school orienteering exercise, we paired up to navigate several highrise buildings until we had delivered the 30 or so meals that had been loaded into the van. Anthony delivered a meal to a gentleman who said very kind things in appreciation of the service, to which Anthony responded that we’re lucky to work for an employer who supports efforts to give back to the community.

This amazing experience was over for us almost too quickly, and we dropped off the bags and headed into the sunshine to walk back to work. But more of our colleagues at OntarioMD will have the opportunity to deliver meals for Dixon Hall Meals on Wheels throughout January and February, and we learned there may be more opportunities for us in future. Dixon Hall Donor Stewardship Officer Cassie McIndoo told us that the organization hosts weekly community dinners and breakfasts, where a classically trained chef provides healthy meals. Corporate sponsors like OntarioMD can encourage employees to volunteer with food preparation, service, and to just be there to share a friendly face and a chat with clients as they enjoy their meal.

As my colleague Anthony pointed out, OntarioMD staff are fortunate to work at a place that understands that employees are more than just our jobs and finds ways to help us connect with our community in such an important way. Thanks to Dixon Hall for the chance to volunteer – we look forward to the next opportunity to give back!