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Ed Brown named a transformational Canadian

TORONTO – Dr. Ed Brown (pictured) has been named one of 25 transformational living Canadians in a special celebration of citizens who are making an impact on the nation and the world beyond. The program has been organized by the Globe and Mail, CTV and Cyberpresse.

Dr. Brown, an emergency physician and a former software developer, is the driving force behind the creation and development of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, a system that uses two-way video and diagnostic equipment to deliver clinical care from specialists, often in urban centres, to patients in remote areas of the province.

As well, the network provides rural physicians with education and training that keeps their skills up to date.

Likely the world’s biggest and busiest, Ontario’s telemedicine network has 180 staff and more than 1,100 sites where the services can be accessed. Last year, some 3,200 healthcare professionals accessed it, tallying 102,000 patient events. Meanwhile, 360,000 practitioners and administrators turned to the network for education.

Dr. Brown, who says he went into medicine because it’s about people, explains that the network makes life better for many patients. “The low-hanging fruit for us was folks in the northern and rural areas who [otherwise] have to travel, leave their families, leave their jobs, who often can’t bring their families, so they’re facing a diagnosis on their own.”

Almost every week, Dr. Brown says, international visitors show up at the network’s offices. “There are a lot of telemedicine programs all over the world, but what we’ve done is found a way to make this practical and to make it work in a more scalable way so that it can actually become part of the health-care system.”

The telemedicine network had humble beginnings. After securing funding from the Ontario Medical Association for a feasibility study, Dr. Brown spent what he describes as several years in the wilderness, drafting a plan on evenings and weekends.

With funding from several hospitals and a matching grant from the Ontario government – which now provides the organization’s base funding – Dr. Brown launched a pilot project called NORTH Network in 1998. It then expanded across most of Northern Ontario. Then in 2006, the provincial government worked with it and the province’s two other telemedicine networks to create OTN.

To supplement its traditional telemedicine, the network recently added a feature that allows physicians to electronically share images of injuries and conditions. It also launched a program in which chronically ill patients receive remote monitoring equipment.

Dr. Brown says the network has a long way to go, given that just 10 percent of the province’s specialist physicians use it. “We are big and busy, but we’re not mainstream yet,” he admits. “We’d like to make this part of everyday practice.”

Winners of the Transformational Canadians program were determined by a panel of six judges; nominations were accepted from Canadians across the country. The exclusive sponsor of the program is Cisco Canada. Driving the program as the exclusive sponsor is Cisco Canada. Willa Black, Cisco Canada’s vice-president, corporate affairs says that for her organization, recognizing 25 people who exemplify the best of Canadian values is a meaningful way to celebrate Cisco’s 25th anniversary.

In recognition of the 25 Transformational Canadians’ efforts, Cisco will donate up to $25,000 worth of technology to the non-profit or charitable organization of each winner’s choice. The technology will be donated in partnership with Allstream.

Judge Seamus O’Regan was quick to lend a hand to the project. “I’m delighted to be involved in this because it gives us an opportunity to tell the stories of these transformational Canadians,” says Mr. O’Regan, co-host of CTV’s Canada AM. “What we want to do is inspire others, both of this generation and the next.”

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Posted December 16, 2010