Healthcare at a touch of a button

If the prophet cannot come to the mountain, take the mountain to the prophet.

That’s the thinking behind VideoCare, a London, Ont.-based telehealth network that provides video-conferencing services to hospitals and healthcare professionals across southwestern Ontario.

It enables these professionals to remotely view, in real time, presentations – such as brain anatomy – that may be taking place hundreds of kilometers away.

And that’s a big deal for busy practitioners for whom ongoing education is a must.

Normally the only “audience” during a brain dissection would be the small group of on-site participants standing around a table.

By contrast, video-conferencing enabled the London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital to broadcast a brain dissection to hundreds of healthcare professionals across southwestern Ontario.

“Brain dissection [helps] healthcare professionals learn about neuro- anatomy. [But] you can only have so many people around a table to see the brain. Video conferencing is better [because] you can sit comfortably [wherever you are] and see it on the screen,” said Gina Tomaszewski, southwestern Ontario’s regional stroke education coordinator.

Using an IP-based network, VideoCare also facilitates the London Health Sciences Centre’s once-a-month ‘Stroke Rounds’ – a continuing education program for healthcare professionals on stroke-related topics.

According to Tomaszewski, the hospital limited involvement in Stroke Rounds to in-house participants. Though health practitioners in many regions wanted to participate, such sessions would have required them to travel to London – and that was impractical, given their busy schedule and the distance they would have to travel.

Video conferencing provided a convenient and accessible alternative.

So Stroke Rounds, which started out as a conventional session, turned into big affair with hundreds of virtual participants – interconnected regional healthcare professionals.

The Stroke Rounds video-conferencing initiative began in the fall of 2003 with only two VideoCare sites participating. Today, 36 VideoCare sites within the region participate. The number of participants in each site range from three to 40 people, said Tomaszewski.

VideoCare was made possible by a Health Canada grant in the year 2000, according to its manager Neil MacLean. Becoming fully operational in 2002, the initiative now receives annual funding from the Ministry of Health, as one of its priority programs.

Connected to the VideoCare network are 27 hospitals across southwestern Ontario, with 67 VideoCare sites maintaining 118 video conferencing units.

And VideoCare’s benefits extend beyond its use as an educational tool.

It has also become an important component of the region’s patient care system, MacLean said.

It enables patients to consult “virtually” with specialists, he said, without the inconvenience of travelling huge distances in inclement weather to do that. “Southwestern Ontario is plagued with miserable winters. Many roads from the north going south are actually impassable.”

He said by using only a few pieces of portable equipment – a Polycom video conferencing camera, monitor, remote control and microphone – VideoCare has broken down time, distance and weather barriers among the region’s hospitals.

This technology, he said, enables a patient in Windsor to consult with a specialist in London without physically making the journey.

Video conferencing also enables follow-up consultations with a specialist, and all the time the patient never has to leave his or her hometown, MacLean said.

VideoCare coordinates the date, time and location of video conferencing sessions through scheduling manager software running on the Polycom Concert Suite.

The software automatically initiates the video conferencing equipment at specific date and time, and the patient is “virtually” brought face to face with the physician.

It all happens automatically, MacLean said, “so the physician doesn’t have to fumble around with the remote control and remember what site he is dialing into.”

Telehealth provides physicians easy access to their peers as well as secure second opinions from specialists in remote locations, he said. “More importantly, the work-life balance of physicians working in rural communities is better.”

Related links:

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