Interior Health is marking an important milestone, according to a recent press release – the 10th anniversary of the introduction of telehealth.
“The thoracic telehealth service that is discussed in the press release has been quite beneficial to patients in the North Thompson who need thoracic surgery,” said Dr. John Soles of Clearwater. “It usually saves them at least one trip to Kelowna and sometimes more.”
According to Soles, there will always be some need to travel for medical care. However, he was hopeful that, in the future, there will be more medical services provided from distant sites in similar fashion.
“There is the potential to save rural patients time and money for travel as well as reducing the risks of crashing traveling long distances to appointments,” he said.
On Dec. 15-16, 2003, the first telehealth videoconference consultations in IH took place when Kelowna-based surgeons from the B.C. Thoracic Surgery Program linked with patients in Cranbrook and Trail to conduct initial surgical assessments and post-operative follow ups. Thoracic surgery is treatment for serious illness of the lung or throat.
In the decade since, nearly 11,300 thoracic patients have received telehealth care at 54 different hospitals and health care sites, saving patients more than 8.4 million km in travel. The program has reached beyond Interior Health to patients in communities throughout B.C., including approximately 2,500 from Northern Health.
“Telehealth technology helps ensure that patients have access to high-quality health care services they need without travelling hundreds of kilometres to access specialist services,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “For patients and families who live outside major centres, this program can make a big difference by supporting faster diagnoses and better health outcomes.”
IH offers telehealth in three ways: through direct patient consultation via videoconferencing, the upload of photographs to a health authority-wide system, or through Home Health monitoring, where patients “check in” from their homes.
Since its introduction, the telehealth program has grown to include more than 20 different medical fields, with nearly 55,000 patient uses per year throughout Interior Health. This includes everything from surgical consults, to wound treatment, to renal care.
“Telehealth technology has changed the way Interior Health is able to deliver health care, and its use continues to grow,” said Interior Health board chair Norman Embree. “Today, 30 per cent of all thoracic practice in Interior Health is performed via telehealth.”
Patients are able to reach beyond Interior Health, as well. For instance, patients with high-risk pregnancies are able to consult with physicians at B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Vancouver via tele-ultrasounds.