PORT HARDY—Port Hardy’s Joseph Lefort attended his regular monthly appointment with Nanaimo Regional General Hospital renal specialist Dr. Anthony Booth last Tuesday, just as he has done for the past year or so.
But this time he was joined by VIHA executives, IT specialists, media representatives and Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham. And he did it all without leaving town.
Lefort’s video consultation marked the milestone 10,000th use of Telehealth in VIHA since its introduction in 2007.
“It sure beats a lot of travelling,” Lefort said of the technology. “It feels the same as being in a room in Nanaimo, but a couple of hundred miles closer.”
Telehealth is still an emerging technology but its development could have a major impact on how healthcare is delivered in the future — particularly for the North Island and other rural areas.
With 48 participating sites across 18 communities on Vancouver Island, the system allows patients to access specialist care from their local hospital. Since its inception, VIHA estimates that use of the system has saved some 50,000 hours of patient travel time.
“This is really significant,” said Mayor Parnham, a member of the Mount Waddington Health Network. “Travel (for medical visits) can be a huge drain on families. Quite often it leads to families leaving our communities.”
Through the system a patient in Port Hardy, for example, can travel to the local hospital and be connected with a specialist in Victoria, saving a seven-hour trip each way — and the associated costs — for what may be a 10-minute consultation.
At the last public Health Network Forum in Port Hardy, the travel barrier was cited as a contributing factor to the region’s poor health statistics. Time, cost, inconvenience, access to a suitable vehicle and winter road conditions all add up to missed appointments and consultations. In turn, chronic conditions go undiagnosed and untreated.
Telehealth is seen as part of the remedy to this particular malady, through bringing healthcare to the patient.
While oncology was the first field to take advantage of the system when it was introduced, an increasing number of other specializations have become involved in the system, as was made evident by Tuesday’s milestone. Providers in thoracics, cardiology and mental health, among others, have now joined the Telehealth program within VIHA.
Complimentary technology has and continues to be developed to facilitate these consultations. In the case of cardiology for instance, a nurse can use a digital stethoscope on the patient while a specialist hundreds of miles away can hear the heartbeat and direct the placement of the stethoscope using a chest diagram and pointer.
For more information on Telehealth programs see www.viha.ca/telehealth.