Health wave of the future
Tele-health changing the face of health care

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Sep 14/98) - As a community health nurse in Kimmirut, Louise Donnelly got to see the benefits of tele-health first hand.

"There'a a psychologist in Iqaluit and people would come here (to the nursing station) and have a counselling session," said Donnelly.

"It seemed to work well and they didn't have to go to Iqaluit," she said and explained that by using tele-health, clients could meet face-to-face with a counsellor without the usual prohibitive cost of travelling on Baffin Island.

Comprised of a computer system, a remote-controlled camera and a keyboard in each centre, the technology allows health practitioners and patients in one community to link up with personnel by camera in other communities.

So far, Iqaluit, Pond Inlet and Kimmirut have tested the equipment in Nunavut and have been able to link up with a hospital in Ottawa.

Donnelly's only complaint about using tele-health in her Kimmirut nursing station was with the slow speed of the technology but, never fear.

Ed Norwich, the manager of information systems for the Department of Health and Social Services in the west, said that newer, upgraded technology is destined for the Baffin communities and should be up and running early in the new year.

"We just wanted to get the project going so we used what was the best available equipment at that time," said Norwich.

Pond Inlet and Iqaluit will both be re-equipped with the technology. A site in Cape Dorset will replace Kimmirut, since Dorset is a larger centre. Norwich said he hoped tele-health will also eventually come to centres in the Kitikmeot and Keewatin.

At a cost of about $100,000 per site -- paid by the GNWT Department of Health -- half of that going towards equipment and the other half to training staff, Norwich said that a number of services have been made available to the Baffin communities because of tele-health.

"The range of what you can do on it is only limited by the imagination of the people working on it," said Norwich. Doug Sage, the acting CEO and director of community services at Baffin Regional Hospital, agreed with Norwich.

Along with improving access to counselling, Sage said the equipment had allowed for consultation on physical exams when necessary, early detection of disease, patient education and prevention of illness and visiting with family members during extended hospital stays away from home.

"The kinds of things we'll use it for are the kinds of things we'd just do without," said Sage.

While there has been much criticism of the technology, especially with people concerned that it will replace doctors or medical care, Sage said that is just not the case.

"It doesn't make the need for doctors, hospitals, medevacs go away. It puts the right resource with the patient in a shorter period of time and it picks up the slack where we've already got shortages."