Dr. Greg DePape demonstrates the setup in the telehealth room at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni, B.C. (File photo)

All we end up with are more reports and mumblings

Patients are making long journeys to visit specialists

Dear Editor,

As I write, patients are making long journeys to visit specialists for simple ‘face to face’ consultations even though all diagnostic work has been completed and the reports forwarded.

But, what if it were possible to be referred to a specialist, have all diagnostic work completed close to home, followed by a virtual consult?

Then, once diagnosed and working within a single province-wide electronic communications system, develop a treatment plan, book appointments and communicate with all the necessary service providers.

Results and reports flow to your specialist, family doctor and other service providers who all communicate. That is a team!

What if incorporating this model using a province-wide electronic/virtual communications network were to result in our system moving closer to becoming patient-centred care.

Alas, with few exceptions, patients, their families or caregivers are required to make long, expensive, stressful and unnecessary trips for face-to-face consults when a virtual consult would provide the same outcome.

The ability for patients to communicate virtually (when appropriate) with their health care provider will save days of negotiating difficult travel conditions, significant and unrecoverable costs for meals and hotels and reduce time away from work. Expenses borne by patients fly under the radar because they are not included as a health ministry budget item.

After 20 years of government ‘plans and promises’ to implement a province-wide Electronic Medical Records and Virtual Health Communications system we now have six health authorities (or more depending on how you count them) who can’t communicate with each other, a series of local, single-condition, time-limited pilot projects using virtual communication, all successful.

All we end up with are more reports and mumblings around providing permanent service.

The Ministry of Health Virtual Strategy Department is ‘developing a framework’ which is beginning to look much like a reinvention of the wheel. National and international studies extolling the virtues of virtual communication abound. A Saskatchewan experiment included ‘green benefits’ claiming six million kilometres saved.

My research shows that physicians and patient advocacy groups aren’t interested in a province-wide system serving all citizens (taxpayers). Commercial competition is fierce.

We are more than halfway through a four-year election cycle, so, unless there is a concerted effort to introduce a universal electronic medical record/virtual communication system soon, it will drop off the ‘to do’ list again.


Fanny Monk


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