Remote health technology expands in North
- EFN Staff | April 19, 2017
More patients in La Loche will now be able to receive care in their home community as a result of government’s $500,000 commitment to expand the use of Remote Presence Technology in northern Saskatchewan.
Health Minister Jim Reiter joined project partners in Saskatoon for a demonstration of this innovative technology with a live connection to La Loche.
“This cutting-edge technology will make health care services more accessible for the people of La Loche,” Reiter said. “Our government remains committed to ensuring that patients have access to quality, timely health care, regardless of where they live in Saskatchewan.”
Remote Presence Technology (RPT) enables health care providers to perform real-time assessments, diagnostics, and patient management from a remote location, through either a mobile robot or smaller portable hand-held device known as a “doc-in-a-box”.
“I am very pleased that my granddaughter was able to be followed up remotely by the doctors in Saskatoon here at home in La Loche using the 'doc-in-a-box' technology,” Annette Montgrand said. She is the grandmother of a severely injured teenage girl. “She needed to have frequent medical follow up and physiotherapy, and without the 'doc-in-a-box' she wouldn’t have had those treatments, as we would not have been able to travel as frequently as necessary to see the physicians and physiotherapists in Saskatoon.”
RPT was pioneered in Saskatchewan by Dr. Ivar Mendez, the Fred H. Wigmore Professor and Unified Head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan, and was first piloted in Pelican Narrows. This project reduced the need for medical transport, allowing patients to receive care in the community with their families.
“Providing timely access to health care to remote northern communities not only benefits our patients but our studies have demonstrated that it is highly cost-efficient,” Mendez said. “The expansion of this program will provide access to primary and specialized medical care to underserviced communities in real time. We are world leaders in the application of advanced remote presence technologies for health care delivery to rural and remote populations.”
“Access to care has been notoriously difficult for many of our northern communities with significant health disparities and an inordinate burden of disease borne by our community members,” Northern Medical Services Director Dr. Veronica McKinney said. “I believe we are entering a new chapter in health care whereby some of these access issues can be addressed, treating the patient, the families and the communities where they are and when they need. This is a very positive step toward building equity in our health care system.”
Government has committed $500,000 annually to expand the technology to Northern communities like La Loche, which was chosen based on its remoteness, health-related population features, overall level of need, and connectivity-related infrastructure.
“This technology has the opportunity to overcome the barriers of distance and time to health care access,” University of Saskatchewan pediatric intensivist Dr. Tanya Holt said. “It creates the opportunity to build health care capacity for remote communities through direct access to sub specialists. When utilizing the robot for pediatric transport triaging, we were able to care for more children in their home community, consequently avoiding the often stressful and disruptive experience of removing a child and family member from their home community.”
RPT will initially be used for pediatric emergency assessment in La Loche while the Ministry of Health explores additional service offerings and works to identify priority sites for further expansion.