Telehealth eyed for Ladysmith

Local initiative looking to raise $25,000 to install new medical conferencing room for patients

  • Sep. 27, 2011 5:00 p.m.

Susan McAdam knows all too well the toll travelling can take on a person.

The Ladysmith resident had to drive her 85-year-old mother to and from appointments in Victoria and Nanaimo on a regular basis.

“It was really hard on her. Even taking her to Nanaimo was sometimes hard. Thankfully we never got caught in a car accident.”

McAdam first read about Telehealth last May and soon saw how the revolutionary technology and process could fit in Ladysmith.

Telehealth uses live, secure, teleconferencing using a computer screen and special equipment and is able to bridge the gap between specialists and far away patients.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we have this here?’” said McAdam.

Moved by the cost and stress of medical travel —  McAdam found out a taxi to Nanaimo costs $100 — she started doing some digging of her own.

McAdam was put in touch with Margarita Loyola, Telehealth manager for Vancouver Island Health Authority, who answered all McAdam’s questions.

There is space at the health centre and McAdam is now helping mobilize support and financing for the equipment.

She estimates the community needs to raise around $25,000 for some of the equipment and renovations to a room at the health centre, including sound-proofing.

Education, she said, is key as McAdam noted many people in Ladysmith were not aware of the Telehealth procedure. McAdam has since been talking to the Hospital Auxiliary, chamber of commerce and others to raise awareness.

“This is a whole new level of access in the health-care system,” said McAdam. “Look at the doors this will open to specialists all over.”

Loyola said the benefits of Telehealth are obvious and the service is catching on, with 23 sites currently operational. The technology not only reduces the toll on doctors or patients forced to travel, but is also better for the environment and allows patients to have their support system (family or friends) with them or close by during the check-up.

Telehealth also has benefits for doctors working in isolated communities, said Loyola, as the technology helps them better connect and consult with colleagues and attend conferences.

“The main objective of Telehealth is to improve access to specialist services,” said Loyola, adding there are expansion plans in the works.

“There is less disruption from your daily activities and work.”

A Telehealth appointment can go far beyond simply talking to a doctor across a monitor. Special peripherals, including stethoscopes, ears, nose and throat scope and medical cameras, allow the doctor to interact with the patient as if they are standing right in the room.

VIHA will help pitch in with some equipment, including the peripherals, and other in-kind support amounting to between $10,000 and $13,000.

For Ladysmith, Loyola is confident that the staff at the health centre will be able to handle the extra Telehealth responsibilities and they may even look at using volunteers to help meet and greet patients.

Specialist billing for Telehealth is competitive to in-person visits, Loyola noted, and an expanded billing code for family physicians is currently being examined.

“It does not hinder a physician financially.”

Currently family physicians can only bill if they sit in on a Telehealth consultation with a patient and specialist.

For McAdam, she is hoping having Telehealth here will better ensure people make and keep their appointments.

“There are seniors in this town that don’t have family, they don’t drive, they don’t have a partner that drives and $100 is a lot of money,” said McAdam.

Even those with family locally may be reluctant to ask a loved one to take the time to drive into Victoria or Nanaimo for an appointment.

“They are more likely to ask if it’s only going to take a half hour/hour out of their time.”

McAdam is still talking with service groups and trying to find ways to fundraise to make sure money raised stays in Ladysmith.