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Telehealth: A boon for rural patients?

Facilities are also available in Grand Forks, Castlegar, Nelson, Creston, New Denver, Kaslo, Nakusp, and Edgewood.

Getting to see your specialist for important health care in rural BC can be challenging, especially in the winter. Seeing your doctor through video conferencing can be the best option for many people.

Take expectant mom Natalie Santano, who used telehealth video conferencing technology to connect with her specialist in Nelson. “It obviously saved our family a huge amount of time, money and the stress of driving over the pass in snowy weather. But it also made it possible for my midwife here in Creston to be at the virtual appointment with my obstetrician in Nelson. It was amazing the difference it made — she could ask questions and we could all work together to make decisions. It felt like we were a real team.”

A group of family physicians and specialists, Interior Health staff and patient representatives have been working on introducing new telehealth technology in Kootenay Boundary. The group hopes that Natalie’s experience becomes the norm, especially during the winter months.

“Over the last couple of years, the team has been working on putting secure, private and efficient systems in place to help make video conferencing easier and more accessible to patients and doctors,” said Dr. Eddie Naude, a family physician in Midway, BC. “While sometimes an in-person consultation is required, many other consults can be done just as effectively via video conference, with a much better experience for our patients.”

At this time, patients in Rossland, Trail, and environs can access the telehealth videoconference facility at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail, by prior arrangement. A distant specialist who can consult with a particular patient by videoconference can arrange an appointment for the patient at the videoconferencing facility and inform the patient. Facilities are also available in Grand Forks, Castlegar, Nelson, Creston, New Denver, Kaslo, Nakusp, and Edgewood.

The project, spearheaded by BC’s Shared Care Initiative for  the Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice and Interior Health has implemented telehealth for a growing list of medical services, currently including maternity care, urology, internal medicine, general surgery, anesthesiology, and pediatrics.

Heidi Scott, the patient representative in the telehealth implementation team adds, “After being diagnosed with MS, I had to see the specialist multiple times a year. Driving was very difficult on my body, and flying was much too unpredictable in the winter. And if I missed an appointment, it meant a much longer wait to see my doctor. Telehealth avoids all this, and makes it much more efficient for everyone.”

For patients who could benefit from using telehealth, Ms. Scott emphasizes the importance of asking your health practitioner about the service. “With the newness of the technology, not all doctors know about the growing list of telehealth options. Our team is working hard to make sure the message gets out to practitioners, and we’re hoping patients will help by asking their doctor to check if telehealth is an option for them instead of traveling for an in-person appointment.”

The more the service is used, the more it will be developed and extended, avoiding the hazards of driving long distances for more people, not to mention reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If you are interested in using telehealth for your next specialist appointment, ask your family doctor. Or contact Mona Mattei, mmattei@divisionsbc.ca  250.443.1899.