An ideal tool for eliminating barriers to health care caused by distance is TeleHealth. It is well under way on the North Island.
TeleHealth Analyst Mya Aylott says there has been a 458 per cent increase in use of TeleHealth in Mount Waddington Region since its introduction, from 59 patients in 2011-12, to 270 in 2013-14.
Dr. David Whittaker, family physician in Port McNeill, says, “The excitement around TeleHealth revolves around access to care. We will be able to provide medical access to a much larger proportion of our population more often. We are currently providing GP services to Sointula. Once other sites are online, we would hope to expand these services.”
According to Dr. Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer, “TeleHealth lets Mount Waddington residents have a face-to-face appointment with their specialist providers without having to go far from home. This has many benefits for the patient, including providing consistent care and follow up, decreasing the chances of a hospital admission and reducing travel time and costs with a specialists visit down-Island.”
Reduced wait times for services are another benefit. TeleMental Health services in the Mount Waddington region are resulting in wait times of 4-6 weeks instead of 6-9 months for non-urgent psychiatry, says Shane Thomas, Practice Lead.
Dr. Marilyn Malone, Specialist Geriatrician, is using the same team approach in delivering TeleGeriatric services through a Nanaimo satellite office. She is able to assess gait and balance, as well as issues related to cognition and physical health. TeleHealth geriatric services will be available on the North Island soon. Malone’s colleague, geriatrician Dr. Deviani Maher, who has outreach experience working in Bella Bella, will make her first visit to the North Island in October to do initial assessments and get to know the local teams.
Dr. Malone feels that this approach can help even out these services regionally. “There is a huge disparity in services in rural and remote areas. Island Health has no geriatricians in Nanaimo and only one in Port Alberni. The rest are on southern Vancouver Island.”
Collaboration is key, Dr. Malone said. Dr. Whittaker agrees; “What we are finding with our pilot project in Sointula is an added benefit. It is forcing us to work collaboratively with the wonderful RN. Collaborative work with allied health professionals is the way forward in rural medicine and TeleHealth has given us a great avenue to do just that.”
The Nov. 5 Health Network Forum at the Civic Centre in Port Hardy will be an opportunity to meet some of the people involved in TeleHealth and learn more. The focus of the forum will be access to services, including regional service delivery models, transportation initiatives and profiling local services from birthing through to seniors’ care. The provincial Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, will be the keynote speaker.
For more information on TeleHealth, visit www.viha.ca/TeleHealth or contact me (info below).
Barb Park is coordinator of the Mount Waddington Health Network, which advocates for North Islanders across a spectrum of health and social services issues. firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-230-1238.