Virtual visits from cyberspace
Telehealth connects patients and healthcare specialists
Pina Del Sonno, respiratory therapist and Clinical Coordinator of the National Program for Home Ventilatory Assistance (NPHVA).
As technology has evolved, so have the ways health care is delivered. One of the most exciting recent advances has been the merging of information technology and telecommunications to create telehealth – an effective, cost-efficient way to bring specialized care to patients in remote areas, without the inconvenience of travel.
“Before telehealth, there were two ways of providing outreach services in remote areas,” says Johanne Desrochers, MUHC Associate Director for Telehealth and RUIS McGill Telehealth Co-Chair. “Either the patient came to a hospital in Montréal or a specialist travelled to where the patient lived. Now we have a third option.”
Telehealth brings specialists and patients together in virtual space, even though they may be many kilometres apart. It’s an ideal solution in regions where population is not dense enough to support specialists and it is difficult for patients to travel due to illness, bad weather or family obligations.
In 2010, the MUHC was given a mandate from the Quebec government to operate a virtual health centre, (Centre virtuel de santé et services sociaux) on behalf of the McGill RUIS. “The Centre offers ‘one-stop shopping’ for specialists and patients using telehealth technologies,” explains Desrochers. “For example, if a patient needs to see a cardiologist, his GP will go on the Web, complete a form and send it to our centre. We’ll find the cardiologist, book the patient and supply technical support for the consultation.”
Multidisciplinary team approach makes telehealth so successful
Technology makes telehealth possible, but the people make it work. “Our multidisciplinary telehealth team is enthusiastic and forward-thinking,” says Desrochers. “Team members are always testing new technologies and devising new ways of offering services.”
One new telehealth service available since 2010, is “Televisit” offered through the National Program for Home Ventilatory Assistance (NPHVA). Pina Del Sonno, respiratory therapist and Clinical Coordinator of the NPHVA and her colleagues deliver care to patients with serious respiratory problems, using telehealth technology.
“Many of our patients have a neuromuscular disease or spinal cord injury which makes it very hard for them to travel to medical appointments,” Del Sonno says. “To help them, we use a telehealth tool called Televisit which allows us to monitor and evaluate them in real time. The Televisit system is loaded on a cart with wheels so it doesn’t take up much space. It remains in the patient’s house.”
“To arrange a ‘visit,’ I simply send a request from my clinical station at the hospital. Once the patient accepts and activates the system, we connect. Using the medical equipment on the cart, we can then do a complete evaluation. We can take the patient’s blood pressure, oxygen saturation and even listen to the air flow in his lungs – all from our location in the hospital. Based on what we find, we then recommend therapies and review how family caregivers are delivering treatment – all without the patient leaving home.”
“Telehealth is a new way of practicing medicine that will help us address the shortage of human resources in health care,” says Desrochers. “It allows us to pool scarce resources, such as the specialists working at the MUHC, and use their expertise much more efficiently. If one centre is short of a specialist, another centre can come to the rescue by conducting a remote consultation. With telehealth, healthcare providers really can be in two places at once.”