Videoconferencing technology helps patients manage follow-up care


An avid fisherman and outdoorsman from Northern Ontario, Daniel Girard had a bone marrow transplant six years ago at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and didn’t want his treatment to slow him down. With the help of Telehealth videoconferencing technology, Daniel now receives comprehensive follow-up care virtually and is back to fishing without having to travel 800 kilometers to Toronto.

For patients, having to travel long distances for health care can often mean high costs, loss of time with loved ones and added stress during an already stressful time. To address this situation and increase access to care beyond the boundaries of its urban-based health- care centres, University Health Network (UHN) uses Telehealth videoconferencing (also known as Telemedicine) to link patients in rural and remote areas with their health-care teams at any of the three network sites: Toronto General, Toronto Western, or Princess Margaret Hospitals. The technology is one of the many tools implemented by UHN’s Telehealth team, which is part of UHN’s information technology and management department, Shared Information Management Services.

Daniel was the first patient in a groundbreaking Telemedicine Project with Princess Margaret Hospital. “The benefit for me is that I am at home and comfortable. I don’t have an eight-hour drive to Toronto or need to pay $1,000 for a flight. I travel five minutes to my local hospital where I can meet with my Princess Margaret team. My local nurses are not specialists, but a lot of knowledge has been passed on to them through these virtual visits. Telemedicine has been a godsend to me,” says Daniel.

The PMH Transplant Team closely monitors Daniel’s complex condition and manages his symptoms remotely via Telehealth videoconferencing, including reviewing his blood work and performing a physical assessment. The tool also enables the team to review Daniel’s medications and wean him off the immunosuppressive medication necessary for the success of the transplant.

Janice Wright, RN, Nurse Practitioner with the Bone Marrow Transplant Team explains, “The complexity after transplant is managing the patient’s symptoms. Often that means one or two follow up appointments a week. For Daniel, that is a 1,600-kilometre roundtrip. During the Telemedicine appointment, I can use the digital stethoscope to listen to his chest and the magnification camera to make an oral assessment. Furthermore, it has enabled us to bring our expertise to the local communities where we have developed strong partnerships with our community hospitals. It’s been very rewarding.”

Once considered a tool strictly for the office boardroom, videoconferencing technology is changing the way health-care professionals follow up with patients. Since 2002, UHN Telehealth, in partnership with the Ontario Telemedicine Network, has been bringing care closer to home, facilitating close to 5,000 clinical consultations over their secure network to more than 400 health-care sites throughout the province.

Telehealth plays role in treatment for neurological movement disorders

Optimal treatment for Parkinson’s disease requires specialized neurology care that may be scarce in rural settings. Last year, The Movement Disorders Centre at Toronto Western Hospital expanded the use of Telehealth videoconferencing from simple neurological follow-ups to include the remote reprogramming of Deep Brain Stimulators. Under the guidance of Neurologist Dr. Elena Moro, the parameters of brain stimulators can be reprogrammed at a distance. Technology coupled with an innovative process, whereby a specialized community nurse attends with the patient at the local Telehealth studio in rural Ontario, has increased their accessibility to care.

Virtual hugs – reconnecting with family through Televisitation (TV2)

Having been away for more than a week while Jason had heart surgery, the Brazeau’s were anxious to return home to Northern Ontario. However, post surgical complications, meant a few more days of hospitalization. “We were so disappointed,” recalls Natalie. “We were lonesome for our kids. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster being so far from family and friends.” Although they bridged the gap by chatting on the phone, “It just wasn’t enough, I needed to see and hug my children,” confides Jason.

Through their family visiting initiative, Televisitation Too (TV2), UHN’s Telehealth team was able to link the Brazeau’s with family in their home community. Intended for in-patients whose condition or treatment has kept them at UHN for an extended time, TV2 promotes the emotional wellbeing by reconnecting families separated by distance.

Already familiar with Telemedicine because of Jason’s pre-operative consultation, Natalie seized the opportunity of reconnecting with the family through TV2. “UHN Telehealth allowed us to touch the lives of our family back home. We played ‘hide and go seek’ with the kids, viewed kindergarten drawings and saw that Nanna (my Mom who is taking care of them while we are away) is really doing okay. I feel reassured that everything is fine and the virtual hug from the kids will keep us going ‘til we can be home again,” says Natalie.