Last year, 22,000 patients in the northeast used telemedicine, up from 9,700 the year before, said Laura Boston, the NELHIN’s senior project manager. In Sault Ste. Marie, 1,200 patients used telemedicine, up from 600 last year.
The NELHIN says telemedicine is steadily expanding and is available in 207 Northeastern Ontario health care locations, from Attawapiskat to Wikwemikong, including 16 locations in Sault Ste. Marie.
Telemedicine uses live two-way videoconferencing systems provided by the Ontario Telemedicine Network. The systems can be equipped with diagnostic equipment, such as patient cameras to let doctors view wounds and incisions, and electronic stethoscopes that allow physicians to listen to a patient’s live heart and breathing sounds.
Boston said dermatologists, for instance, visit the Sault periodically, but with a web-based system now in place patients are getting care faster by being diagnosed remotely.
“Family physicians, family health teams, can send photos of a patient’s skin condition as well as a patient history and other patient data to an Ontario-based dermatologist who provides a diagnosis and treatment plan without having to drive a lot of hours or wait months for an appointment to happen,” said Boston. The NELHIN says it is expanding telemedicine rather than moving patients to visit their doctors.
Boston said calls for more access to telemedicine was one of the things the LHIN heard this past spring and summer when it consulted 700 people across the northeast. “I think northerners are looking for ways to access healthcare more efficiently, and at home,” she said.
Telehealth equipment is installed in hospitals, doctors offices, long-term care homes, family health team locations, and other locations including the Group Health Centre in the Sault.