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Telehealth in Newfoundland exceeds expectations

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. – Efforts to connect patients from remote communities to specialists far away have resulted in 8,601 virtual consultations in the past five years, exceeding projections by 6,743 consultations. Since 2005, Telehealth has greatly increased access to specialized and critical healthcare services for residents across Newfoundland and Labrador. The technology allows patients to consult with specialists in distant locations without leaving their communities - saving time, money and increasing access to much needed care.

“Telehealth has become an essential element for many physicians and healthcare providers throughout our province,” said Jerome Kennedy, Minister of Health and Community Services. “Considering the vast geography of our province, implementing technology such as Telehealth closes the gaps created by distance and offers sustainable access to healthcare for patients in rural areas of the province.”

Focusing on chronic diseases prevalent in Newfoundland and Labrador and related medical specialties, including oncology, nephrology, diabetes, and mental health, Telehealth delivers substantial benefits to residents across the province, particularly those in rural areas. Telehealth reduces the time, cost and strain of travel on patients, families and clinicians. It improves the capacity and continuity of healthcare delivery and reduces professional isolation by providing healthcare providers greater access to consulting opportunities.

“Telehealth is a clear example of how technology can improve access to quality healthcare in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as areas where recruitment of specialists has been challenging,” said Mike Barron (pictured), CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information. “We are extremely pleased with the success achieved through Telehealth to date.”

The Telehealth project began in 2005 as a joint initiative between several partners, including the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Health Infoway (which is funded by the federal government), Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information and the Regional Health Authorities. To date, the provincial government and Canada Health Infoway have invested more than $2.7 and $2.9 million respectively in Telehealth infrastructure, equipment and project support.

“Infoway is proud to support the development of a Telehealth network in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Richard Alvarez, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway. “Telehealth services are opening up new pathways to treatment for patients, resulting in savings for the health system, less travel for patients and most crucially, better access to timely, relevant healthcare.” Furthering its commitment to enhance the quality of programs and services in the healthcare system, the provincial government will sustain Telehealth as part the annual budgeting process.

Since its inception, Telehealth has advanced remarkably with an expanded infrastructure and tremendous growth in usage, including:

• 8,601 total consults, exceeding the initial overall project adoption target of 1,858 consults;

• 123 healthcare providers are engaged in the Telehealth delivery process, almost double the original project target of 65.

• Patient consults have increased from 66 per month in 2005 to 482 consults per month.

• In addition to patient consultations, healthcare professionals from different communities used Telehealth to discuss the diagnosis and treatment of 1,162 patients between April 2007 and December 2009.

• There are more than 50 functional Telehealth locations throughout the province, all with equipment less than two years old.

• The iScheduler application, which provides a common shared system for scheduling consultations and managing Telehealth resources, is available across all Telehealth sites.

• A recently-completed Telehealth benefits evaluation showed that 79 per cent of providers and 81 per cent of patients surveyed agreed that “Telehealth has made it easier for my patients/me to obtain an appointment with the specialist or other provider at the provider site”.

“Many of our oncologists have been using the Telehealth system for some time and we are seeing increased use in other programs including mental health and dialysis,” said Vickie Kaminski, President and CEO of Eastern Health. “The benefit of this technology is tremendous. Our patients benefit from more timely access to care closer to where they live, while our physicians can spend more time on their clinical responsibilities rather than travelling to different areas of the province. We’re extremely pleased to have this service available.”

“The Telehealth program is an integral component in helping Central Health achieve its strategic directions for Chronic Disease Management and access to specialists. This has become a transparent way of providing ‘face to face’ consultations to obtain specialized services closer to home while at the same time reducing travel time for specialists throughout our huge geographic region,” said Rosemarie Goodyear, Senior Vice-President Quality, Planning and Priorities of Central Health.

“Every day we see examples of the real impact this technology has on the lives of our clients,” said Boyd Rowe, CEO of Labrador-Grenfell Health. “Telehealth utilization continues to grow in our region and, with each new lifesaving success story, we continue to appreciate this initiative as one positive solution to overcoming our challenging geography.”

“We have witnessed real growth in the number of patients who have been able to participate in the Telehealth program in our region”, said Dr. Susan Gillam, CEO of Western Health. “This has been a tremendous benefit to helping reduce the burden of illness on the patients and clients that we serve, especially those in the more rural areas of our province.”

The proven success of Telehealth illustrates the potential it holds for healthcare in the province. With the continued commitment of the provincial government, the Centre for Health Information and the Regional Health Authorities, Telehealth will grow to deliver additional benefits in chronic disease management and other critical areas, such as telepathology.

Posted May 6, 2010