VICTORIA -- A healthcare program being used in other parts of the world like Australia and the U.K. has made its debut here in the Capital Region.

The 'Hospital at Home' program launched last week and allows patients to continue their hospital stay at home while still under the guidance and monitoring of health-care professionals.

A small team of doctors and nurses, based out of the Victoria General Hospital, are now providing in-home care and treatment with advanced equipment and technology.

“Being really sick doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be in these four walls we call a hospital,” said Dr. Elisabeth Crisci, a lead hospital physician with the Hospital at Home program.

“It’s all about the type of care you need and how portable that care is and how portable the staff that needs to deliver that care is.”

Crisci was exposed to a similar hospital at home program while in Australia several years ago and asked herself why this wasn’t being done back home in Canada.

With that in mind, she and others pushed for the chance to make the program a reality.

“Change and innovation take courage; it’s easy to think, 'This could be better,' but to actually approach the Health Ministry and ask that Hospital at Home be a true extension of the hospital, and function under the Provincial Hospital Act and ask for a provincial mandate – this is how much we believe in Hospital At Home,” she said.

The pilot program has been two years in the making and is the first of its kind in B.C.

It has required a collaboration of all levels between doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, health authorities and government to make it work, says Crisci.

Victoria General Hospital and Prince George in the Northern Heath Authority are the first to get the program up and running. If successful, the Royal Jubilee and Cowichan District hospitals could have their own programs in 2021.

The “dream,” says Dr. Crisci, is to eventually expand the program throughout the province to all hospitals big enough to justify it.

The team is currently servicing nine virtual beds and are available around the clock, and there has been no shortage of nurses and care providers wanting to get involved.

Nurses will visit patients every day and doctors will assess, either in person or over the phone, every day as well. The program is proven to be safe and effective.

Hospital at Home is voluntary and at any point patients can decide to continue their care in the hospital instead. While participating in the program, you are still considered a patient of the hospital and there is no cost to the program, including medications and transportation to and from the hospital for things like x-rays or scans.

About five to 10 per cent of acute-care patients are eligible for the Hospital at Home program, but they must meet certain criteria and live within a 15 minute drive of VGH.

One week into the program, the response has been great, says Dr. Shauna Tierney, one of the lead doctors with Hospital at Home.

“What I can tell you is that there is more life in their eyes,” said Tierney. “They are more relaxed. I have a better sense of how they are actually functioning. So they’re healing more quickly, I can see that already.”

Tierney has been part of the development team and couldn’t be happier seeing everyone coming together to make it work.

“It’s a very different dynamic and it’s returning us back to the role of providing care and service for our patients,” she said.

Crisci says family caregivers and loved ones are also pleased with the service, especially with the current policy around COVID-19 and visits in the hospital.

“They are just happy to have their loved one back home, sleeping in their own bed, eating their own food, being with family and actually have the nurses and physicians from the hospital come to them instead,” she said.

Physicians and specialists can call and refer patients for Hospital At Home, but not everyone will qualify for the program. There is very specific clinical criteria, including requirements like the illness must be a known diagnosis and doctors must know what the clinical course of action will be like. There must also be a caregiver in the home that can help the patient.

“We are all patients at times, or our family members or loved ones are patients,” said Tierney. “So it’s not hard to really feel why this is the right thing to do for patients that meet our eligibility criteria.”

For more information on Hospital at Home, visit Island Health’s website here