Angela Virtual Assistant (AVA) Program Walk-Through with Angela Hospice and Home Care

In this episode of Coffee with Chris, Affinity Senior Care CEO Chris Z interviews Angela Hospice staff members Vilija Idzelis-Wlosinski (Community Liaison) and Karen Gugala (Registered Nurse and AVA program expert) about the benefits and importance of Angela Virtual Assistant (AVA) program in homecare.

Read the edited transcript below.

Chris: I have with me Karen who is a telehealth manager at Angela Hospice. A registered nurse with this organization for seven years, part of the Angela Virtual Assistant (AVA) program that we’re going to be talking about today.

She’s a certified hospice and palliative nurse and has been a registered nurse for 24 years. Thank you, Karen, for joining me.

We also have Vilija. She is the Community Liaison with Angela Hospice and she’s been with them for three years. Her passion lies with hospice programs and education of the community. Welcome Vilija.

Vilija, Karen can you tell us a little bit about the AVA program?

Vilija: We have a special presentation on AVA, and I would also like to introduce our leading expert on AVA – Karen Gugala.

Karen: Hello I’m Karen Gugala and I am a nurse at Angela Hospice, and I have worked with our AVA telehealth program since we started it in January 2017.

AVA is an extension of our home care program where our patients and families are able to connect with a face-to-face staff member, usually a nurse in our triage center. They’re able to receive support, have peace of mind, quick symptom management and truly just knowing that someone is always there.

Chris: What an amazing service you guys provide. Karen, how did it all begin?

Karen: It began with an opportunity from Ralph C Wilson Jr. Foundation. We received a grant for innovation to help kickstart our telehealth program and in January of 2017 we had our very first placement. And it has just continued to grow since then and one of the biggest things is that people continue to provide us with feedback, that they feel so connected and supportive.

In Picture: A Slide on What is AVA?

What we have is our tablet, that’s called our AVA home which we utilize for video conferencing as well as educational videos that can be pushed onto the tablet and also questionnaires. We even have the ability to send a message stating happy birthday to you.

Our AVA GO cell phone is a new program that we began in January this year and what that does is the ability to have our AVA program on your own device or the actual cell phone, whether it’s the patient’s caregiver or family member.

How that works is an invite link is sent to the cell phone and then with the AVA GO the patient, family member, and caregiver are able to do any secure messaging with this. It’s just like texting but again it’s secure, any video conferencing. There’s also a library resource center with educational materials and different health tips and resources that they’re able to access at any time.

What our AVA program hopes to achieve is to just make sure that people always feel connected and that they are literally just a video call, secure message away, 24/7 from our patient support center, sometimes also called our triage.

In Picture: A Slide on What is AVA?

Our AVA HOME is a tablet and there is an area where they press a button and then that sends a signal to our staff who is watching the monitor at all times and then they’re able to video connect. They also can secure messages with the GO product, and they also can push educational materials.

So, our AVA HOME is on Samsung Galaxy Tab E, and we instruct patients to keep that plugged in at all times. But the most important thing is that when you are ready to utilize it, you just have to take it off the plug and you can move it around and utilize it for eight hours if you need to, but I can’t envision that ever happening. But at least you know that off the charger it is good to go for eight hours.

It really only has a few buttons on, it’s as easy to use as possible. There’s the on off button and a volume button. It’s to be used as an education or communication tool.

We normally run our AVA HOME on cellular, but we can place it in wi-fi especially in situations where there is limited cellular connection. What’s great about obviously any type of communication or video call when we’re on is that we have the ability to flip the camera so that they can show us really anything that is happening, and we can advise them right at that minute what to do until that nurse or staff member gets there.

Our AVA GO is on anyone’s personal cell phone and it’s another wonderful option that is utilized so you can either have the tablet or you can have that on your phone.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA HOME

This is a picture of our AVA HOME, and you see that once you engage, it asks you if you want a call now or later and almost always people select now, but truthfully our triage center and our staff that are answering the video calls are very prompt.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA GO

Here is a picture of our AVA GO and what it actually looks like on the app where there is the home screen and then you have the bubble where you can secure message and then this screen actually shows where you’re able to request a phone call, a video call, and you can actually type in how come you’re calling and it can almost in a sense even give a bigger heads up as to why or what exactly you need so that we can immediately assist you. And then the little library book there to the right is the resource center which has again all the resources there.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA units availability

Our AVA units are available at any time in our home care setting, and we do different ways to get them out to our patients and families. Sometimes we’ve just left them for the patient to take at their own time. If they’re concerned about anyone coming into the home, we will do a contact free delivery for you.

With AVA GO there is absolutely no equipment necessary but sometimes people really do like that actual device in their hands and that’s where the AVA HOME comes in. People have also stated that they really like the bigger screen on the actual tablet so it’s just trying to fit every person’s exact needs of how they want to communicate with us.

In Picture: A Slide on Who can have AVA?

Who can have AVA at Angela Hospice?

Literally everyone can. We have a hundred home units right now and we also have 50 GO licenses. I mentioned earlier that our GO program is a little bit newer so currently right now we aren’t using quite 50 licenses yet but as we continue to let our patients and families, caregivers know that we have this program I anticipate it to become larger. We almost always have just about those 100 units in rotation for our home care. What is really great is very rarely do we have the situation where we do not have any available. We will always work to make sure that we have one available. And that’s another thing that’s great about the GO, is that you are able to push that license through it anytime on a cell phone.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA funding

How this all started was because of the generous grant that we received from the Ralph C Wilson Jr. Foundation. He was an actual Detroit native and we’re very grateful to be able to have this opportunity to continue this program.

In Picture: A Slide on Why is AVA important?

Why is it important? It’s very important due to many reasons that were mentioned in the video. It can always help provide a caregiver reassurance to their patients and caregivers are able to share and show concerns. We all know how difficult it is to attempt to describe anything when we’re calm and cool let alone when our loved one is hurting or in a crisis situation. With the tablet or with the AVA GO and the video visiting we are able to provide support and advice as to how to manage that symptom until the nurse can get there.

We also have the ability to do virtual visits and joint visits at any time where we can join in the medical team if you’d.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA customer feedback

One of my favorite things is to read some of the survey comments and as you see in a lot of these it continues to talk about how they’re comforted by the face-to-face information. They felt it was a godsend. One of my favorites is that a patient actually felt that sometimes when his wife called in on the actual telephone that she couldn’t hear or see who she was talking to. So, he really liked the fact that he could see the nurse and hear her advice on the tablet and then he said he knew his wife wasn’t making anything up.

As you can see here there’s a lot of different ways that it has helped – confidence and assurance and a great way to communicate and we also have had surveys come back that said, “I never used it but I was so grateful it was there.” Again, it’s just a fail-safe type of communication that gives everyone the opportunity to be able to communicate how they want with us.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA customer feedback

You see more and more with the feedback with our app is that it was fabulous with the secure messaging option and as it shows here it was able to ask questions and receive quick responses where they felt at that time that they didn’t have to actually pick up the phone or do a video visit but they wanted to communicate with us.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA media coverage

Here are some articles that will be available at the end of the presentation to be able to view and there are a couple of these.

In Picture: A Slide on AVA media coverage

One of them was done during covid with one of the pediatric patients as the mother was extremely nervous for us to come into the home. And then some of them here are from some of our staff members and other patients and families that were in our inpatient unit and due to Covid restrictions were unable to see their family. So, we made it possible for them to be able to view and speak with each other and visit via our telehealth.

Chris: That’s wonderful! What is your biggest joy in working with Angela Hospice and the hospice community?

Karen: Well, working in hospice is such a gift itself. I have had many wonderful moments over the years but with the telehealth one of the most amazing things to see is when you actually see the patient on the video call and they are so excited to see their caregivers or the clinicians that help them, and the joy for them to be able to see others and to be able to alleviate some of those fears is just priceless.

Chris: What’s the best way for someone to get AVA set up in their home?

Karen: One of the best ways is the admission nurse can bring it out on admission, but sometimes at the admissions there’s so many things that everyone is going through that at times it’s placed at a later date and the patients and families, and caregivers just need to ask for it and then we get it to them as soon as possible.

Chris: Great! Is this service covered by insurance? There’s no cost for anyone?

Karen: There’s no cost at all. It is part of our service at Angela Hospice, so it’s not built through insurance. It’s just a wonderful added enhancement that we are able to offer to patients and families through Angela Hospice.

Chris: If anybody wants to reach out and find out a little bit more about this what’s the best way to contact you guys.

Karen: The best way is to reach out on our website, and you can see the different programs that are there as well as you’ll see on the website our 888 number and that’s one of the best ways to reach us.