August 10, 2017 3:00 pm EST
Updated: August 15, 2017 8:06 pm EST

Kelowna doctors hail the benefits of telemedicine

In a recently published report, two Kelowna doctors are hailing the benefits of telemedicine for patients who live in remote or rural areas.

The doctors said the technology can drastically cut down on travel time and help deal with the challenges of providing health care over B.C.’s large and relatively sparsely populated regions.

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The report is based on work done out of Kelowna. A group of doctors, working in the field of thoracic surgery and based out of Kelowna General Hospital, provided follow-up appointments and new patient consultations via secure video conferencing for over a decade.

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Over a thirteen year period, starting in 2003, they used videoconferencing for over 15,000 appointments to treat patients from around the Interior Health and Northern Health regions.

Kelowna doctors, Dr. Michael Humer and Dr. Barbara Campling, recently published a report on their assessment of the telemedicine work concluding that for remote patients being treated for cancer “telemedicine is now in many ways better than seeing the doctor in person.”

“In one day, I can see patients in Kamloops, Prince George, Dawson Creek and Oliver, review their medical images in real time and determine appropriate treatment plans,” said Humer.

“It’s often better than seeing the patient ‘in-person’ as I now see them with a family member who might not have been able to travel to Kelowna.”

The authors note providing health care to many parts of the province has traditionally been complicated by B.C.’s geography and climate.

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“Severe winter weather conditions and treacherous mountain passes further increase the challenges of accessing health care in rural British Columbia. In too many cases, this has resulted in inadequate care, or worse, no care,” states the report.

Many of the patients treated by the KGH group have cancer which, the report authors note, means they also face “difficult and emotional decisions.”

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The report also suggests that telemedicine is an improvement on the previous system which saw thoracic surgeons routinely travelling to local hospitals to see patients.

“Travelling surgical consultants exposed themselves to the risk and fatigue of travel, and during this time, they were inaccessible to emergency situations,” said the report.

“Patients from remote areas could wait more than six weeks for a local on-site clinic, even for urgent oncologic problems.”

The report said if the patients treated via telemedicine had to travel to Kelowna for treatment, they would have had to travel over 11.5 million kilometres combined.

The doctors did not feel like their work was compromised by not being able to physically examine the patients during video conferencing appointments.

“We do not consider the inability to do a physical examination to be a serious weakness of telemedicine,” said the report.

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“All patients have been previously examined by their referring physicians. The surgeon conducting the telemedicine session can request a local physician to perform an examination.”

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