With the launch of more than 50 new NORTH Network telemedicine sites in 2002-for a total of 75 sites across Ontario-technology is rapidly removing distance as a barrier to accessing high quality health care for people living in rural and remote areas of the province.
“As one of the largest and most advanced telemedicine services in the world, we are dramatically improving access to health care by bringing resources to rural and remote areas,” says Dr. Ed Brown, Director of the NORTH Network. “Thanks to the commitment of many individuals and organizations including medical directors, telehealth coordinators, our scheduling team, technical experts, support services staff, our members and funders, this vision has become a reality.”
Since 1998, NORTH Network’s telemedicine program has allowed patients to consult with medical specialists and other health professionals in regional or tertiary care centres in Ontario without leaving their home communities. Using two-way television and medical peripheral devices, health professionals provide health care services to patients over the Network.
NORTH Network has facilitated more than 4,000 consultations in 42 health care specialties for people living in 50 communities, including a number of First Nations communities. The Network also partners with a telehealth site in Winnipeg for referrals from the far northwestern regions of Ontario as well as as five Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations’ communities.
In November, 328 patient consults were completed, setting a new monthly record for NORTH Network. Patients, referring physicians and specialists have reported high levels of satisfaction with the increased access to medical care provided by the NORTH Network.
In addition to specialist consultations, the Network facilitates the delivery of continuing health professional development for physicians, nurses and other health professionals. Health professionals from across the province access a variety of distance education opportunities offered via videoconferencing. Regional programming, as well as programs offered by our educational partners, including the Northwestern Ontario Medical Program (NOMP) and the Northeastern Ontario Medical Education Corporation (NOMEC), is also available.
Recently, our first telehealth emergency service was launched in North Bay. Telestroke, a new initiative for acute stroke care, allows residents exhibiting signs and symptoms of stroke – who meet a specific set of clinical criteria – to receive emergency support via a virtual neurologist and state-of-the-art technology. By examining a CT image, speaking with the emergency physician and conducting a videoconference, the neurologist has access to the information required to provide the appropriate course of treatment for the patient.
Teleophthalmology is another new initiative that is helping to identify and allow early treatment of eye disease, particularly for residents of remote First Nations communities. Many of these communities have high rates of eye disease due to early onset of diabetes. A retinopathy camera, capable of taking pictures of the inside of the eye, has screened patients in Sandy Lake First Nation and is now making the rounds of five other First Nation communities – Deer Lake, Keewaywin, Poplar Hill, North Spirit Lake and Fort Severn.
The shortage of in-house radiologists in most communities in Northwestern Ontario is being alleviated as the NORTH Network’s Teleradiology project gears up for business. Teleradiology will assist facilities without a radiologist on-site to transmit digital x-ray images to a site that has a radiologist. Through the project, a Picture Archiving Communications Solution (PACS) will network 18 independent facilities in the region.
With the Network “live” and open for business, sites eagerly shared this news at local media launches and open house events held throughout the summer and fall.
“We are really excited about our recent advances” says Dr. Brown. “As we continue to expand our services, we further our mission of removing the barriers of distance and increasing access to care by bringing health care closer to home.”
For more information about NORTH Network, including referrals and educational opportunities, call the toll-free number, 1-888-34-NORTH or visit NORTH Network’s web site at www.northnetwork.com