INNOVATION FUND The Future of Academic Medicine Innovative Approaches to Care Delivery, Public Health, and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion SHOWCASE 2023

Phones for healthier Ontarians in the emergency department – COVID-19 needs met by cellular telephone (PHONE-CONNECT)

Innovative Approaches to Care Delivery, Public Health, and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Evelyn Dell


SMH – St. Michael’s Hospital Medical Services Organization

University Health Network – UHN


Dr. Jennifer Hulme + Dr. Andrea Somers


PHONE-CONNECT is an emergency department (ED) program providing prepaid cellular phones to patients who do not have them. PHONE-CONNECT empowers patients to stay in touch with family, and healthcare workers to facilitate follow-up care. These cellular phones improve care experiences and outcomes for people experiencing disadvantage in their transition from hospital to community following discharge from the ED. This program shows promise in reducing moral crisis and burnout in healthcare workers, and meeting the health and social needs of patients. It improves the quality of care provided to people experiencing disadvantage, and is felt to be worth the time and effort to implement. As a way to improve healthcare delivery, our program has demonstrated that hospital networks can meet the needs of underserved communities across Toronto. We hope to provide guidance to other EDs to implement and benefit from similar programs.


We aimed to evaluate a cellphone distribution program – PHONE-CONNECT – to understand mechanisms and outcomes in the setting of the emergency department. Our mixed-methods evaluation includes qualitative constructivist approach to interviews and surveys of staff, and quantitative analysis of patient outcomes.

With the rise of digital medicine, expanding the array of tools available to physicians to meet healthcare needs while also addressing inequities is innovative. It is essential to streamline ED care in order to help address these inequities and expand access to care for underserved communities.

Potential for spread:
Preliminary data suggests that PHONE-CONNECT improves rates of ED follow-up care (ie clinic visits, specialist appointments) and that it is feasible and valued by care providers. This program appears to empower patients’ ability to continue accessing care outside of the hospital, thereby receiving higher quality care. Further, there is clear potential to expand the program across the province. PHONE-CONNECT is a promising digital medicine program providing a means to improve healthcare experiences and outcomes for communities experiencing disadvantage.

Beyond the Innovation Fund:
PHONE-CONNECT findings have been presented at multiple academic symposia, and the quantitative work was presented at the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians national conference. Two peer-reviewed manuscripts detailing the qualitative and quantitative findings are currently in preparation. Departmental leadership across multiple networks are developing a long-term sustainability plan. Next steps for this work include expanding the program to additional settings focused on specific underserved populations to determine the generalizability of findings. The project team will also work to develop a sustainable model for providing patients with free cellular phones in the ED and implementing this model in healthcare settings across the Province.


  •  10.2196/23914

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