Cutting the drive out of the doctor’s visit 0
Telemedicine co-ordinator Shelley VanLieshout demonstrates the suite at the Haliburton hospital on Aug. 8, 2012. Appointed to co-ordinator position in March, one of VanLieshout's goals is to let people know they can talk to their doctor remotely, without the lengthy drive to the city. JENN WATT/HALIBURTON ECHO/QMI AGENCY
You seldom hear a health-care provider say she needs more patients, but in the case of telemedicine co-ordinator Shelley VanLieshout, that’s exactly what she’s looking for.
New money has been allocated to area hospitals to promote telemedicine, which allows patients to connect with doctors, psychiatrists and specialists remotely without costly and time-consuming trips to city hospitals.
The challenge is getting people to use the service.
“We’d like to get six to seven consults a day,” chief nursing officer Deb Watson says.
Last year, the health-care corporation – including Minden and Haliburton hospitals, mental health services and long-term-care homes – had used the services about 50 times.
It’s a number VanLieshout is determined to boost.
One of 20 nurses across the Central East Local Health Integration Network tasked with running and promoting telemedicine to patients and health-care providers, the nurse with 18 years of experience in Haliburton is reaching out and educating people about the service.
“We’re educating patients to ask their specialists about OTN [the Ontario Telemedicine Network],” she says.
Equipment exists throughout Haliburton Highlands Health Services, allowing patients to have real-time meetings with doctors outside of Haliburton.
Hospital patients, emergency room visitors, residents at Highland Wood and Hyland Crest, patients without doctors and patients needing specialized care are all able to access the service. (Haliburton’s Extendicare also has equipment.)
At Haliburton’s telemedicine suite, there is a large TV screen, with a video camera on top.
There’s plenty of space for a hospital bed to be wheeled in or for a patient to demonstrate a movement disorder by striding in front of the camera.
The hope, Watson says, is to upgrade the equipment so a mobile unit can be taken to patients’ beds.
“We’re hoping through the LHIN we can upgrade,” she says.
At mental health services in Minden, a screen has been set up in front of a plush couch.
“It’s like a cozy living room,” Watson says.
If fully embraced, the service could drastically cut expenses for patients and hospital alike.
When a patient is transferred to another facility for a non-urgent matter, the cost of the vehicle is absorbed by the hospital.
When a nurse accompanies that patient, that means one fewer staff in Haliburton or Minden, caring for patients.
“Transportation has always been a rural challenge,” Watson says.
Patients have been overwhelmingly accepting of the new technology, often expressing relief that a five-minute appointment can be dealt with in just five minutes locally, rather than taking an entire day factoring in the drive.
Telemedicine isn’t only about video chat with doctors; it can also include sending high-resolution images to specialists.
A service called “telederm” allows photos of rashes or wounds to be sent off to dermatologists for consultation.
VanLieshout takes the pictures and sends them off to the specialist.
“In their own time they can diagnose,” she says.
Diagnosis can come back in a week, rather than the six to 18 weeks one might wait for an appointment.
Funding for a telemedicine nurse is guaranteed for one year and can be extended if it is deemed HHHS is using the service enough.
In some areas, even more advanced electronics are being used in emergency rooms, with burn victims and with youth in psychiatric crisis.
Watson and VanLieshout are hopeful about this county’s telemedicine future – with more physicians accepting the technology and more patients aware of its availability, they expect demand to go up.
Watson encourages patients to discuss telemedicine with their doctors or specialists. It is available in most hospitals and can save time, money and hardship.
“We want to ensure we’re able to provide services to the community,” she says.
“It just makes so much sense.”