Telehealth bringing patients, doctors together
Central Albertans are saving time, money and worry as more use Alberta Health Services videoconferencing for medical appointments.
Red Deer residents Kimberly Bigoraj and her son Brayden, 5, started using Telehealth last November when a severe snowstorm prevented them from going to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
The secure system allows patients to hear, see and speak with their health-care providers without having to travel.
“They called and informed us they weren’t going to be able to make their appointment. I had concerns about that lack of follow-up. I was quite worried about how the incision was going to heal from Brayden’s surgery,” said Dr. Jeff Pugh, a Stollery neurosurgeon who was linked to Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre through Telehealth on Wednesday.
Brayden had an arteriovenous malformation, a mass of abnormal blood vessels as large as a cellphone behind his ear. Non-surgical methods had proven ineffective in removing the mass so in October, Pugh performed surgery. Followup was possible by using one of 10 Telehealth sites equipped with high definition cameras at the Red Deer hospital.
“I was even able to bring in one our plastic surgeons at Stollery to take a look at the wound via Telehealth. Together we came up with a treatment plan and we sent a prescription down to Red Deer hospital and Brayden went over to the outpatient clinic and was able to further his treatment locally in Red Deer,” Pugh said.
Since then most of Brayden’s follow-up appointments have been through Telehealth.
“It’s only a few minutes. Brayden is comfortable with it. We’re not travelling. And Dr. Pugh seems to be getting what he needs and we’ve been getting what we need,” Brayden’s mom said.
“We don’t have to take him out of school. We also have a one-year old. We don’t have to travel in the cold. Dad works away so it’s helpful to be able to do it this way.”
Bigoraj also said it’s less intimidating for Brayden who has been nervous about going to the hospital.
About 650 patients videoconferenced with Stollery pediatric specialists in 2012, a 33-per-cent increase over the previous year.
Red Deer has been using Telehealth for patients since about 2003 and now 100 health centres around Alberta have Telehealth, including community hospitals in Central Alberta.
Donna Polutnik, registered nurse and Telehealth clinical facilitator in Red Deer, said based on patients’ experiences, she’s sold on Telehealth.
“One woman I was working with was 85 and said she really didn’t know about all this stuff. We set up the room and she got into the conversation with her physician. She told me afterwards, ‘I forgot he wasn’t just across the table from me. It was just that comfortable,’” Polutnik said.
“We have (Telehealth) patients in the building every day, up to as many as eight. It really depends on the needs of the physicians.”
Interested patients need to confirm with their doctor that their appointment would be suited to Telehealth.
“The advantages initially were all from the patient’s side. But they really have moved to where physicians, specialists can see more folks in a shorter period of time and that’s great efficiencies for everyone,” Polutnik said.
Telehealth is also used for staff meetings and education.
“Alberta Health Services is a large organization and this is an excellent way for us to stay connected.”