Imagine this scenario. You're recovering from an operation and have a follow-up appointment with a specialist in Saint John. Due to your injury, you can’t drive; even just sitting in a car for an extended period of time is painful and might make your problem worse. But you live in rural Albert County… what can you do?
Thanks to Telehealth, you might be able to avoid the painful drive. You may be able to have the appointment at the Albert County Community Health Centre in Riverside-Albert or even in your own home.
For most Telehealth appointments, you will go to the health centre in Riverside-Albert to connect with one or more health providers, who could be in Moncton, Saint John, Halifax, Ottawa or elsewhere. Depending on the number of people involved, you might be in a small room upstairs or in the larger community room downstairs. The room will have a television screen linked to a computer.
In Riverside-Albert, you could be alone or joined by a member of the staff, such as your family doctor, nurse, dietitian or physiotherapist. You might even have a whole medical team in the room with you along with your spouse or other family members.
At the scheduled time, you will connect with the specialist, care provider or team over the screen. You can all see and hear each other, just like using Skype. It will feel like being in your specialist’s office except that your local medical team might be with you and you didn’t need to drive.
Of course, a medical appointment sometimes involves more than just talking. This is where Telehealth offers far more than Skype.The nurse, doctor or nurse practitioner in Riverside-Albert can take measurements, such as blood pressure and pulse, before or during the appointment.
The distant doctor can even conduct parts of an examination. For example, a local nurse can put an electronic stethoscope on your chest and the specialist in Saint John can hear your heartbeat. If the specialist wants a close-up view of a part of your body, the team can use peripheral cameras.
If getting to Riverside-Albert is difficult, you can arrange to have a Telehealth appointment in your own home. Arrangements can be made to connect to the care provider by using your own tablet, iPad or cellphone. This service is particularly valuable for people who have mobility issues (e.g., require a wheelchair or walker). It’s also helpful for patients with dementia who might get upset and confused by a trip to the hospital; this way, their health can be assessed when they are in the comfort of their own homes with their family. A home visit might also be appropriate for a mental health consultation, particularly if more than one family member is involved.
Who can use Telehealth
Telehealth at Riverside-Albert is available to all New Brunswickers; you don’t need to be a patient at the Albert County Community Health Centre. The service isn’t appropriate for all appointments, but is often a viable option for follow-up appointments with care providers, such as cardiologists, respirologists, geriatricians, psychiatrists or social workers. You can even attend classes, such as those for cardiac rehabilitation. It may even be possible to use the Telehealth service in the evenings or outside the Centre’s regular hours.
Your role as a patient
Many medical specialists don’t offer the option of using Telehealth; they’ll just set up regular appointments in the city. Instead, it’s up to you to ask for the service. You can ask the care provider or call the Albert County Community Health Centre at 882-3100.
Circle of care
Telehealth is convenient for you as a patient, but it can also play a pivotal role in your circle of care. Normally when you visit a specialist, a follow-up report will be sent to your family doctor or nurse practitioner (NP). When you meet with your specialist through Telehealth with your family doctor or NP at your side, your doctor can ask questions. Your doctor/NP will find out more about your case by being part of the appointment. Also, the long distance appointments provide educational opportunities for local medical staff, who might learn from the specialists.
Beyond patient care
Medicine is always evolving and it’s important that medical professionals stay in the loop when it comes to new technology and the latest research. The staff at the Albert County Community Health Centre can attend workshops, classes and conferences without even leaving Riverside-Albert. Participating in these events through Telehealth eliminates travel costs and travel time, which is time the staff aren’t available to local patients. Through Telehealth, a doctor can be part of a seminar in Halifax in the morning and still treat patients in Riverside-Albert at noon.
Telehealth is a service provided by Horizon Health Network and made possible at the Albert County Community Health Centre through the support of the Bennett and Albert County Health Care (BACH) Foundation. If you are interested in using this wonderful resource for an appointment, ask your specialist, your family doctor or nurse practitioner, or call the Albert County Community Health Centre (882-3100).
This article was based on interviews with Phyllis Hudson, Facility Administrator at Albert County Health and Wellness Centre, and Krisan Palmer, Regional Telehealth Manager for Horizon Health Network.