Telehealth uses videoconferencing and supporting technologies to put patients in touch with health professionals across distances. It is especially useful in remote areas where patients have to travel long distances to meet health professionals. For patients it:
- reduces the travel burden, particularly for elderly people and those with young children;
- provides access to a wider range of specialist advice and services; and
- deliver faster, more efficient health care by using technology to remove the distance barrier;
Telehealth can also:
- be used for general health promotion, and continuing professional education, when the participants are in separate locations;
- reduce CO2 emissions by reducing distance traveled by physicians and patients;
- improve recruitment and retention of staff (less isolation/greater satisfaction, continuing professional development) in rural and remote locations; and
- make communications between professionals easier and improve team-based approaches to care between different health care providers around B.C.
In 2008 the Ministry of Health has formed a Telehealth Office to facilitate the design and implementation of Telehealth solutions. The Office collaborates with Telehealth experts, information technology leaders, University of British Columbia School of Medicine, Health Authority and First Nations representatives from across the Province. Previous experiences and lessons learned in implementing Telehealth systems in other Canadian jurisdictions are leveraged.
In November 2006, British Columbia and the First Nations Leadership Council released a First Nations Health Plan outlining enhancements in programs and services that will close the health status gap between First Nations and other British Columbians by 2015.
In June 2007, Health Canada signed onto the health plan creating the Tripartite First Nations Health Plan (TFNHP). The TFNHP commits Health Canada to the bilateral accord and ensures that First Nations are involved in decision-making regarding their health.
One of the key components of the First Nations Health Plan is a commitment to develop and implement a comprehensive clinical Telehealth service linking First Nations communities and health authorities.
The First Nations Health Council is establishing an eHealth Centre of Excellence that will apply information technology to facilitate the creation and use of health related data, information, and knowledge for purposes of improving health outcomes for First Nations.
Telehealth services are currently available in approximately 20 clinical program areas, including oncology, mental health/psychiatry, thoracic surgery, homecare, renal, rheumatology and wound care, as well as special services for children
The capacity for two-way, live videoconferencing, clinical, administrative and health related educational encounters exist in more than 100 communities throughout the province. There are approximately 200 Telehealth facilities providing access to approximately 470 videoconferencing end points. Two First nations Telehealth networks are providing health education and training to approximately 30 sites in BC.
Telehealth facilities supported approximately 18,000 Telehealth consults through videoconferencing, for fiscal year 07/08, with anticipated annual growth of 25% per annum.
Provincial Telehealth Projects
In addition, Canada Health Infoway has invested in provincial strategic planning and design initiatives on the following projects:
- First Nations TeleOphthalmology and
- First Nations Telehealth Expansion.
These projects are being led by Health Authorities and First Nations, respectively, and will establish the foundation for future expansion across the province.