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British Columbia expands home telehealth network

KIMBERLEY, B.C. – More congestive heart failure patients living in British Columbia’s Interior Health region can now use a monitoring system at home to check their condition and send data on their vital signs direct to their care providers.

East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett, on behalf of Health Services Minister George Abbott, got a first-hand demonstration of the system at work at the home of Mr. Charles Park in Kimberley.

“Patients can check their vital signs to better manage their own care and know that information is also going to their doctor or nurse. I am delighted to see this innovation helping heart patients in the Kootenays,” said MLA Bennett. “This practical demonstration in a patient’s home shows how telehealth gives patient’s access to a greater role in their own care and more timely delivery of patient care when they need it.”

“Telehealth is one way we are breaking down barriers to quality healthcare for British Columbians, regardless of where people live,” said Health Services Minister George Abbott. “Telehealth homecare enables faster detection of problems, lets patients self-manage their care and saves travel time for patients and caregivers.”

Interior Health deployed 40 monitoring units in a pilot in the Cranbrook and Kimberley areas in July 2006 serving 87 patients. It will add another 20 units so more patients in the East Kootenay can use the system.

The monitors are placed in homes for up to three months to learn about how to better manage their congestive heart failure. After three months the monitor is removed from that patient’s home and deployed in another. This program is based on a partnership between the patient, physician and nurse. The patients are given the opportunity to learn how to manage their disease with the help of the care team. The knowledge gives the patients more confidence and freedom.

“Working with clients in the Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) program is very rewarding. I work with clients to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence in managing their own care, part of which is early detection of increasing signs and symptoms of heart failure, and what to do when this happens,” said Catherine Blake, a CHF nurse with Interior Health’s home telemonitoring program.” The end result is that they often prevent severe exacerbations of their illness, their quality of life improves, they stay out of emergency departments and they feel empowered to make informed decisions around their care.”

“This program illustrates how a bit of knowledge can reinforce medicine to allow people a better lifestyle and keep them out of the hospital and doctor’s offices” said Charles Park, heart patient.

Patients utilize the system using text and voice prompts, which guide the patient through the collection of vital signs (weight, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation levels).

The patient’s vital signs are encrypted and automatically transmitted to the health authority. Health staff can then examine the patient data, and see if immediate intervention, a visit to a physician or a home visit is needed.

Vancouver Island Health Authority will also be adopting a similar system for the first time and expects to have the system up and running by early spring 2009. The Vancouver Island Health Authority and Interior Health project budget for this project is $836,000, with $333,000 provided by Canada Health Infoway.

“Our home monitoring system reduces the need for patients to travel and gives patients in rural and remote areas better access to care because healthcare providers can monitor them from a distance as frequently as needed,” said Interior Health CEO Murray Ramsden.

Canada Health Infoway is leading the development and implementation of electronic health projects across Canada. Infoway works with provinces and territories to invest in electronic health projects, which support safer, more efficient health-care delivery.

“It has been estimated that 20 percent of hospitalizations for coronary heart failure could be prevented through improvements in medical management and patient self-management,” said Richard Alvarez, president and CEO, Canada Health Infoway. “The investment made in the telehomecare project enables the expansion in the circle of patient care, empowering the patient to become an active member in self-management.”

Telehealth videoconferencing technology is now in place in more than 100 communities throughout the province. There are approximately 200 telehealth facilities providing access to approximately 470 videoconferencing end points.

Two First nations telehealth networks are providing health education and training to approximately 30 sites in B.C. Telehealth helps to overcome barriers of geography, transportation infrastructure, or socio-economic disparity by enabling clinical consultation, continuing professional education, and healthcare management.