Delivery of self-management through a peer-support telehealth intervention in patients with cardiovascular disease: The Healing Circles Project

MSFHR is contributing matched funding for Dr. Scott Lear’s research, one of 22 projects as part of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) eHealth Innovation Partnership Program (eHIPP). eHIPP was designed to address gaps in health care—including supporting seniors with complex care needs in their home—by stimulating collaborations between health researchers and Canadian innovative technology companies. MSFHR is also contributing funds towards the eHIPP research projects of Drs. Ellen Balka and Kendall Ho.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death and disability in Canada, resulting in an estimated $22.2 billion in health care costs and lost productivity annually. Older adults are afflicted more than any other population, with many dealing with complex chronic conditions in isolation.

Patient self-management has been found to play a key role in improving patient health and reducing hospital admissions. Correspondingly, social and peer support, and timely access to credible information on managing CVD, are essential for patient self-management and quality of life. Over a four-year period, Dr. Scott Lear, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University, and his team based at St. Paul’s Hospital, will study the use of a new application, Healing Circles, that offers support to seniors with CVD while staying in their homes and communities.

Healing Circles is a private and secure peer support and self-management platform created through a partnership between university-based researchers, industry, decision-makers, clinicians and patients. The Healing Circles application, accessible on smartphones, tablets, and desktop or laptop computers, was developed by Curatio, a digital mobile health company, headquartered in Vancouver. Expansion of the use of Healing Circles by seniors with CVD builds on Lear’s pilot study of the application involving women with heart disease from across Canada. After ten weeks, the women reported being better able to manage their health through the peer support and knowledge gained.

Healing Circles Project participants form virtual 'Circles' with 8 to 10 other patients to connect with and support one another as they learn to live day-to-day with their CVD. Additionally, the 250 study participants can interact with all members of the wider Healing Circles community to share experiences. Investigators anticipate that CVD patients using the Healing Circles platform in their homes will have improved self-management skills compared to patients receiving usual care, and improved quality of life, preventing secondary complications and reducing the need for health care and hospital use.