Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Accessing physicians - vision of the future

As a grandmother, with children and granddaughter 430 km away, we have been using Skype to speak to our family members free. This began 6 months ago, as you can see from photos on the left.

I heard an interesting discussion on CBC this morning on telehealth and video conferencing issues in health care. With an estimated 400,000 Canadians without a physician, Dr. Peter Lin spoke of the benefits of using this kind of technology to improve access.

I think it a fine thing. We really need to envision new strategies that incorporate technology into modern health care practices.

Our granddaughter was born 18 months ago. We keep in touch through Skype. It is wonderful. She is increasing her attention span immensley, and our free 'calls', while blurry (she moves so fast!) are really good. We can see her walk, hear her talking, and generally have a visual, interactive, two-dimensional visit in real-time.

This seems to be a great way to assist those in remote and rural areas in accessing information. It lessens the amount of time and energy of a patient in trying to make it to a health care appointment. Dr. Lin seems to feel that while physical contact with a doctor is necessary sometimes, often it only confirms an issue.

I recall, for example, my father's trip in an expensive ambulance two hours into the centre of the city, only to be told that he was palliative and that further treatment would be ineffective. I took time off work, drove in the ambulance. We wasted EMS crew time, and resources (they were late due to having an emergency call). In fact, in Muskoka, with 8 crews on during peak time, it is a collossal waste of resources.

The oncologist was 3 hours behind in her appointments, I heard another patient complain about this, having driven in from another town, as well.

Not only that, but Dad was incontinent, due to the effects of the radiation treatments my mother insisted he have. No one told us that we could expect infections, and Dad suffered for weeks with urinary incontinence. He was unable to use the pee bottle in the ambulance. It was humiliating for him and disheartening for me.

I would have appreciated having a video conference, to save all of us the stress of this trip to a major downtown hospital. On the way back we were drenched in a thunderstorm.

I am sure that there are issues around billing, but that could be fixed. We are short ambulances, due to the fact that some patients need an ambulance to simply visit a physician and they either lack the physical ability, they are drained by such appointments, or they lack transportation. This is evidenced by the various support groups (e.g., Altzeimer's Society, Cancer Society) who provide volunteer drivers.

I would hope that this possibility is explored by physicians who are concerned about their patients and interested in improving access to health care.

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