Tele-health brings care into people's homes
Ethan Baron, The Province
Federal law mandates equal health care for all, but one in five Canadians receives unequal care because of where they live.
Twenty per cent of Canadians reside in rural areas, while medical specialists and services are concentrated in larger cities.
And with regard to heart disease in B.C., the patients receiving unequal care are often the most in need.
"In rural areas, smoking rates are higher, obesity rates are higher, and these are two risk factors for heart disease and other diseases as well," says Dr. Scott Lear.
Lear and a team of 17 researchers and six staff are working to level the field, to bring equal care to all British Columbians regardless of their location or medical condition. Members of the B.C. Alliance on Tele-health Policy and Research are identifying gaps in health-care service, and looking at ways to use the Internet to bridge them.
"Tele-health" is a mode of care delivery that uses phones, computers and the Internet to connect patients and health professionals.
"The whole idea of tele-health is to bring the services to where they're needed instead of having the individual patients or professionals go to where the services are," Lear says.
For cardiac care especially, ser-vices are found largely in big centres. At St. Paul's Hospital, about 40 per cent of cardiac patients come from outside the city.
Now, however, patients recovering from heart attacks can visit an interactive website. They upload data from their heart-rate monitor, enter information on their weight, diet and exercise, and for diabetics, blood-sugar and blood- pressure levels. Three to four times over four months, each patient has online meetings in a secure chat room with a nurse, dietitian and exercise specialist, one on one.
The health professionals access the patient's uploaded information and adjust treatment as necessary. For issues beyond the capacities of these care providers, the nurse will fax a letter to the patient's family doctor.
This proactive, interactive approach is designed to keep heart patients healthy and reduce the need for costly care in hospitals.