There is no question that COVID-19 has changed the way we do things. Some of these changes have made life more challenging, but some have led to very positive outcomes.
In particular, those receiving kidney treatment through the Kelowna renal program have benefited from a new process of completing vascular surgery patient consultations and pre-surgical screening visits by telephone.
Many renal patients require a fistula as a way to receive dialysis. A fistula is a relatively minor vascular surgery during which a vein and an artery are joined together.
Patients travel from the East/West Kootenays, Vernon and Penticton to Kelowna General Hospital for this procedure by one of four vascular surgeons. Prior to COVID-19, this procedure required either three trips to one of the major centres or up to a one week stay in Kelowna to have a consultation with the surgeon and to meet with the anaesthesiologist before proceeding to surgery.
Since COVID-19, renal patients have been able to have these appointments from the comfort of their own home and are saving time, gas, and money as a result.
“It was amazing,” says Sandra Sunderman. “We talked about the fistula, and within about two weeks, I had it done. I was mapped in Penticton. Then, the vascular surgeon from Kelowna called me the next day. A day later, the pre-surgical screening people called me. Within two weeks of talking about it, I had it done. It was awesome.”
For patients in the Penticton renal program, this new process has been of particular benefit. In the last three months, seven renal patients have received fistulas.
“Speaking as a nephrologist, one of the major challenges that patients bring up year after year is the number of trips required to get their vascular access surgery complete,” says Dr. Brian Forzley, a Penticton kidney specialist.
“For some folks it isn’t a major challenge, but for many folks taking time off work or even getting transportation are real struggles, the number of trips is a real part of the burden of their kidney disease. One of the unexpected outcomes of COVID-19 is our transition to telehealth, in areas that practitioners haven’t felt comfortable with previously, including an anaesthesia pre-op consultation for an elective vascular access surgery. So far things have been going great, and the number of fistulas we’ve been able to secure for our patients in Penticton has risen dramatically. It’s really a silver lining to be sure!”