BC expands use of telemedicine for
KELOWNA, B.C. – Patients with chest diseases are receiving better and
faster care, regardless of where they live, with the expansion of
telethoracic services in rural and remote parts of northern British
Speaking at an April demonstration of the technology – which now
connects thoracic surgeons at a specialist centre in Kelowna to patients
in Prince George – BC Health Minister George Abbott said the
video-conferencing technology from TELUS allows these thoracic surgeons
to assess patients without the inconvenience and expense of travel by
patients and doctors.
“Telethoracic consultations have saved patients days of travel and
related expenses, as they can have their first consultation and
follow-up visit with their thoracic surgeon in their own community,
instead of travelling to Kelowna,” Abbott said. “Expansion of telehealth
videoconferencing technology to more than 66 communities in B.C.,
compared to 11 in 2001, is part of this government’s commitment to
improve rural and remote residents’ access to health services and
Thoracic surgeons treat diseases of the chest, including coronary artery
disease; cancers of the lung, oesophagus, and chest wall; abnormalities
of the heart valves; tumours in the organs contained in the chest
cavity; and transplantation of the heart and lungs. Currently, there are
10 contracted thoracic surgeons practicing in four centres of excellence
in British Columbia.
Telehealth was first applied to thoracic surgery in B.C. in October
2003, when Interior Health used the technology to enable three surgeons
working in Kelowna to consult with patients across the B.C. Interior.
Since then, the program has grown and now involves bi-weekly
teleconferenced thoracic surgery clinics in Cranbrook, Nelson, Trail,
Williams Lake, weekly clinics in Kamloops and occasional clinics in
Grand Forks. Future plans will see the program expand to Terrace, Dawson
Creek, Fort St John and Whitehorse in the Yukon. To date, 872 patient
assessments have been made during 115 telehealth clinics.
The program allows patients greater access to specialist doctors. The BC
Thoracic Surgery Program previously sent Dr. Michael Humer from Kelowna
to Prince George every month. The expansion of telethoracic services
means Dr. Humer can now see patients in the north on a bi-weekly basis.
The average cost saving is estimated at $750 for each patient, with
savings for the Interior Health as telehealth maximizes the resources of
the local communities.
“Telehealth is better for the patient because the further a patient
lives from a consultant, the less likely they are to use their service.
By bringing the consultant to the patient electronically, patient care
is improved,” said Dr. Humer. “The expanded telehealth program will save
patients and surgeons even more days of travel and additional thousands
The system involves a nurse at the remote location who runs the clinic
and aids in performing hands-on examinations. The surgeon in Kelowna
uses two television monitors that show the patient and his own image so
he knows what the doctor is seeing. A special lens in the remote
location can also show close-up shots if necessary. Two-way audio allows
the patient, the surgeon and the telehealth nurse to communicate.
The technology that allows British Columbia’s six health authorities to
work together is called a Private Gateway Network, and uses TELUS
technology. The dedicated high-bandwidth Internet protocol network gives
health authorities the necessary security, bandwidth, and speed for
“The expansion of the telethoracic service across two health authorities
is just one example of how emerging technology can help deliver better
care for British Columbians,” said Barry Rivelis, vice-president of
TELUS Business Solutions. “It also helps realize the vision behind
investing in connecting B.C. communities to high-speed Internet.”
On April 7 last year, the Province and TELUS announced the Network BC
project, which will see TELUS invest $110 million to connect 119 rural
communities to broadband Internet. By connecting the remainder of the
366 communities identified by the Premier’s Technology Council – such as
Clinton in the Cariboo, Bella Coola on the North Coast and Zeballos in
North Island – TELUS and the B.C. government will bridge the digital
divide by the end of 2006.