Telemedicine Brings Care Closer to Home

Posted March 07 2017 10:46am

March 2017 - Telemedicine uses telecommunications technology to provide clinical health care in Ontario at a distance. It helps improve access to medical services that often would not be available in distant rural communities.

Ontario has one of the largest telemedicine programs in the world. Sault Area Hospital (SAH) is part of the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), a not-for-profit organization funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and charged with building a sustainable and responsive virtual care system.

OTN is a world leader in telemedicine, helping to bring care to patients, closer to home. It uses innovative technology to help eliminate the need for travel, thus giving patients better access to their doctors and health care professionals. OTN is used by referrers and consultants to provide care in more than 40 therapeutic areas to more than 200,000 patients annually. 

The Telemedicine department at SAH is staffed by two clerical coordinators, and two registered nurses. There are approximately 20 systems throughout the hospital used for telemedicine, videoconferencing, webcasting and educational events. Although not all appointments are appropriate for Telemedicine, many consultations or follow up appointments can take place via Telemedicine at SAH.

“We strive to make your telemedicine appointment just like a regular doctor’s appointment, only the specialist you will be seeing and speaking with is on a television monitor,” says Laura Adams, Telemedicine Nurse Coordinator. “Free to residents of Ontario, OTN connects you with the right health care professional, in the right place, at the right time.” Many consultants have also been set up to use their own personal laptops and are able to connect with patients from their own desktop.

Telemedicine is taken a bit more seriously this time of year, when travelling to a doctor’s appointment in a snow storm seems somewhat dangerous and stressful. Many Sault and area patients visit SAH’s Telemedicine Studio to have a clinical visit, consult, or follow up with their distant specialist or health care provider. “Although there are many health professionals from across Ontario that we connect with on a regular basis, there are also a multitude of other specialists that we have the capacity to connect with via telemedicine,” says Adams.

SAH also has its own consultants who see patients from across the Algoma District. Patients from the District are able to consult or follow up with a physician at SAH without having to travel to the Sault and this is particularly convenient in the winter months when weather is unpredictable,” explains Adams.

Some of our consultants include physicians and allied health workers from Psychiatry, Medical Oncology, Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Hematology, Renal, North Eastern Joint Assessment Centre, Rehab, social workers and dietitians. “Most recently, orthopedic surgery and the wound clinic have come on board and we thank all of them who are making their patients’ journey a little easier,” adds Adams.

Telemedicine appointments often involve the use of equipment. “The patient camera is used primarily to zoom in to a particular body part such as a post-operative incision, a wound, an arthritic joint or an airway,” says Adams. In addition, a photo can be taken before the appointment, during the appointment (live), or stored and simply pulled up when the health care provider requests it. The digital stethoscope is used primarily for pre-operative assessments and some cardiology appointments require the stethoscope. “The local care clinician and the distant nurse each have a digital stethoscope and both can hear the respirations and heart sounds.” The patient camera and the digital stethoscope are used on a regular basis at SAH.

For residents living in Northern Ontario, travel for specialized medical care can represent a significant personal and economic burden. “The Northern Ontario Travel Grant does not always cover all the costs of medical travel,” explains Adams. “Costs can include air fare, hotels, meals, taxi care, the cost of lost employment, child care costs and not the least of which is the cost of anxiety and stress on the patient and family.”

Not all appointments are appropriate for telemedicine, however some are perfect for this application. “For example, pre-operative assessments, follow up visits, and those appointments where the patient is receiving test results for example are not only appropriate, but make sense,” states Adams. Many initial consults are done via video as well. “We see a variety of patients ranging from babies to 95 years of age and everyone in between.”

If you think you can benefit from telemedicine, please discuss it with your physician or contact the Telemedicine Office at (705) 759-3434, ext. 5261. For more information about Telemedicine, please go https://otn.ca/.

Did you know?    

  • Well over 90% of patients and physicians across Ontario would recommend telemedicine
  • Over the last 3 fiscal years, total telemedicine activity in Ontario has grown an average of 45% per annum
  • In 2015/2016, a total of 121,186,728 kilometres in patient travel was avoided by using telemedicine and an estimated 11,826,640 litres of fuel were saved
  • In 2015/2016, a total of 637,293 patients across Ontario were cared for through telemedicine
  • Specialties that use telemedicine the most at SAH are oncology and mental health
  • The activity for telemedicine clinical appointments at SAH has grown from 786 in 2008/2009 to 4468 in 2015/2016!

 

Rose Calibani is the Public Affairs Officer at Sault Area Hospital. We welcome comments and suggestions for future column topics. Please call Public Affairs at (705) 759-3671.