Telemedicine used to handle H1N1 in
– To help manage the H1N1 pandemic, Alberta has been using telehealth
equipment in many of its Intensive Care Units. The telehealth gear
allows doctors to communicate with their peers at tertiary care centres
in Edmonton and Calgary.
Videoconferencing equipment has been deployed in or near 18 ICUs since
October, allowing critical care teams throughout the province to consult
each other, virtually face-to-face, at any time during the pandemic.
Each ICU in Edmonton and Calgary has been paired with an ICU in one of
five other urban centres: Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie,
Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. The Edmonton and Calgary teams dealing with
the most difficult H1N1 cases are also linked by telehealth.
The technology is able to accommodate PACS (picture archiving and
communication system), allowing real-time sharing of medical images.
As a result, staff and physicians at many ICUs have been able to provide
better care for critically ill patients in their communities.
Dr. Noel Gibney (pictured), medical director of Critical Care, Edmonton Zone and an
intensivist at the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH), says
telemedicine plays an important role in treating critically ill patients
at his site and at its buddy site, the Northern Lights Regional Health
Centre in Fort McMurray.
“It enables us to advise physicians there on the management of many
cases that, otherwise, would have been transferred to Edmonton. When
possible, it’s good for critically ill patients to stay where they are,
and it’s good for the system, too,” he says.
Dr. Gibney says videoconferencing is vastly superior to telephoning.
“When you see the same people on a day-by-day basis, it builds trust and
relationships,” he says. “Those are intangibles but they’re very real
components of providing really good care.”
The UAH support is appreciated by staff at Fort McMurray, says Dale
Marshall, the operational lead for Critical Care Services at Northern
Lights. While the hospital can care for patients with complex needs,
Marshall says, it’s not a big tertiary care centre.
“We do a great job, but sometimes we can benefit from the expertise
available elsewhere in the province. That’s why the telehealth
connection was vital. It gave staff here the support and confidence to
care for these patients.
Caroline Hatcher, director of Cardiac Sciences, Critical Care and the
neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Foothills Medical Centre in
Calgary, add that: “When we were planning for the pandemic, we knew we
would need to rely on each other because critical care capacity in the
province was going to be stressed.”
“Having all province’s ICU teams linked also allows pandemic information
to be quickly shared,” adds Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, co-lead of AHS’
Pandemic Clinical Operations.
AHS staff, in both Telehealth and Critical Care, worked for two weeks to
have the network running by mid-October, when the second H1N1 wave
arrived. Timely delivery of the technology was the biggest of several
challenges, says Jason Kettle, provincial lead, Telehealth and
Multimedia Technical Services.
“We don’t throw a videoconference device in a room; there are a lot of
factors that need to be considered to ensure patient safety and
confidentiality,” he says.
A review of the telehealth initiative is ongoing and a report is
expected in early 2010, says Sybil Young, provincial lead, Telehealth
Initiatives and Services. “This was a new piece of work, so it’s
important to evaluate it,” Young says.
Posted Jan. 14, 2010