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Telehealth network supports patient care close to home
“Instead of driving to Halifax for five minutes, it’s unbelievable – not only the cost, but the time,” she says.
Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious condition that causes red, scaly patches to appear on the skin, and there’s no cure. Individuals with psoriasis may experience significant discomfort, and the itching and pain can interfere with a person’s basic functions such as self-care, walking and sleep. Because of its recurrent nature, the autoimmune disease is a challenge to treat.
“It’s itchy and sore. It’s not a surface itch, it’s deep, it’s in the blood,” says Campbell.
She now receives light therapy for her condition once a month at the Aberdeen Hospital’s physiotherapy department and every four months, through the Telehealth Network, is checked by her dermatologist in Halifax.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s very, very good. I have very few spots, and they’re not as itchy. I have nothing but the best to say for it (the Telehealth Network).”
Registered nurse Linda Muir is the manager of Telehealth Services for the health authorities serving Colchester-East Hants, Cumberland and Pictou County. She says because the area doesn’t have a resident dermatologist, providing services through the Telehealth Network is convenient for people who need that service.
“What’s unique here in Pictou County is that we have patients receiving UV light therapy that is monitored remotely by a dermatologist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. The patients are followed up at one of the weekly Telehealth clinics. As far as we know, it’s the only program of its type in North America.”
She says as a result of this clinic, the Aberdeen Health Foundation purchased state-of-the-art phototherapy light units, and more than 250 patients visits take place each year.
“Otherwise, they would have to travel to Halifax to see the dermatologist. This provides quality monitoring every week. The savings to the family is what’s most remarkable. They never have to leave their home community,” she says, adding that they don’t have to travel or miss days of work.
Telehealth provides a different way to communicate with doctors or other health care professionals, using video-conferencing equipment to allow patients to have an appointment with a healthcare professional located outside their community. From the local hospital, they are able to see and talk with the healthcare professional.
Nova Scotia was the first province to establish a province-wide Telehealth network, and it allows patients and/or physicians to receive improved access to health services.
The Aberdeen Hospital is one of more than 70 sites across the province where Telehealth is offered.
Campbell receives her treatment in a special room at the hospital, set up for Telehealth appointments. The suite features video-conferencing equipment including a camera, microphone and video monitor, and is painted blue – the best colour for video-conferencing. Patients see a doctor on the screen from another location. The system is especially useful for such areas as dermatology or plastic surgery rechecks.
Valerie Taylor, a registered nurse trained to use the equipment, is the site coordinator. She assists patients during their appointments that take place over the secure network.
Other uses include pre-operative visits with surgeons in Ontario for patients who need lung transplants, a surgery not provided in Nova Scotia. Services such as rehab assessment, pain management clinic from Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, and osteoporosis patient education from Dartmouth General Hospital are also offered through Telehealth.
Along with care closer to home and reduced travel and related expenses, benefits to patients include increased access to care, increased patient satisfaction with care, improved health outcomes and having local providers and family more directly involved in care.
The system also allows participation by an entire family, or by a team of health care professionals who may be located in different areas of the province as family doctors can sit in on appointments with specialists in Halifax. “The whole complement of a family can be there to exchange information and ask questions – your support team can get together. That’s what’s really unique about this system. It enhances service that way,” Muir says.
She says the Telehealth system is especially useful for patients who find it extremely difficult to travel, such as those who are severely disabled.
“It’s always nice when a patient feels the system is doing something to meet their needs. That somebody cares that they have to get in their car and travel, and they have obstacles and barriers to face.”
For health care providers and the health care system, Telehealth also decreases cancellations due to poor weather, reduces professional isolation for rural providers, provides convenient access to continuing education, helps improve recruitment and retention in rural areas, enhances the efficiency of the health care system, and reduces costs.
For example, instead of spending money and taking time away from the hospital to attend conferences, education sessions can be brought to the health care professionals via the Telehealth network. Licensing of some health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, requires completing continuing education and this can be obtained through sessions conducted on the Telehealth network.
Another key use of the Telehealth system is for public education, such as the Psychology for You series offered by the IWK Health Centre. These sessions cover a variety of topics, including eating disorders, autism and behaviours.
“Public education is a part that we’re extremely proud of,” says Muir. “Pictou County has the best attendance in the province at these sessions.”
While the Telehealth network is very useful, the video consultations don’t replace hands-on care, but supplement it. “This network is wonderful – it’s a no charge, government-funded program,” says Muir.
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