Closing the distance
:Medical travel becoming obsolete

Kirsten Larsen
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 18/98) - Patients who will be apart from their families this Christmas will have the chance to visit them without leaving their hospital beds this year.

Northern hospitals are looking forward to letting patients try out their telecommunication equipment to call home this holiday season.

Stanton Regional Hospital, and hospitals in Inuvik, Fort Smith and Iqaluit are able to link audio-visually through telecommunication equipment that uses satellites to transmit signals. Three of the four hospitals are not only able to provide audio/visual visits between patients and families but have equipment that enables doctors to meet and diagnose patients over the screen.

The Telehealth stations at Stanton Regional Hospital, Iqaluit and Fort Smith are equipped with medical equipment such as stethoscopes and instruments used to examine the inner ear and view minute details of the skin. A camera mounted on top of the work station's computer monitor can be manipulated by remote control by the parties on either end of the communication link.

X-rays can be scanned and sent to other doctors linked by the system. When brought up on the computer screen, the X-ray can be enlarged, reduced, darkened and reversed just like any other photo document in the system. The cost for one of the work stations ranges between $100,000 to $250,000, depending on the amount of equipment included.

The GNWT Department of Health and Social Services is sponsoring the program which provides the hospitals with the equipment under the WestNet Pilot Project. The pilot project is scheduled to end in June 1999.

Mary Deans, the Telehealth coordinator for Stanton Regional Hospital said the project is expected to grow and will eventually extend into other communities if it is successful.

"It's linking the North together for health purposes, for government purposes and education purposes," said Deans. "It can be used for physicians and patients and can be used for other health professions like dermatology and physiotherapy."

Deans explained that the system would help cut down on the need for medical travel in many cases.

"What we see now, and expect is a reduction in medical travel," said Deans. "One of our goals is to be able to offer specialist services in a more accessible manner ... if this equipment does go out to the smaller communities the patients don't have to travel. They can see their doctor right from the health centre."