Virtual health-care pilot project launched for northern Saskatchewan Indigenous communities

A partnership to develop ways to serve and provide care virtually to sick children in northern Indigenous communities are underway in a five-year pilot project. Photo supplied/ Dr. Greg Hansen

Indigenous children in communities in northern Saskatchewan are at risk in obtaining accessible pediatric healthcare due to their location.

As part of a solution, a partnership between the Jim Pattinson Children’s Hospital, the University of Regina and the First Nations University of Canada was formed to expand a previously piloted virtual health-care platform.

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A neuro-critical care ICU pediatric Dr. Gregory Hansen, who is the principal investigator in this pilot project, says he and another colleague worked with Pelican Narrows in northern Saskatchewan using a robot with a screen that allowed a pediatric specialist to virtually be at the bedside of the sick child instead of transporting them to Saskatoon.

“The robot is the size of a small person,” he said. “It can be controlled with a remote at any centre. All you need is to have access to the network.”

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Dr. Hansen said this approach will aid the pilot project to find other ways to use virtual health care in the northern Indigenous communities to provide adequate care to children.

“The question that [was] asked in the pilot project, can we provide optimal care via a robot,” said Dr. Hansen. “Over a period of time, they discovered they were able to keep 63 per cent of [sick] children in Pelican Narrows [who] would have been transported back to Saskatoon.”

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The sick children in Pelican Narrows were cared for by nurses and nurse practitioners in the community. Follow-ups with the pediatrician team in Saskatoon were provided almost daily.

This approach resonated with the community as what Dr. Hansen calls it: “culturally safe and appropriate.”

This metric sparked the idea of expanding the project to help other Indigenous children in northern communities.

“That’s where we’re at right now, very preliminary stages of engaging with community,” he said. “We want to see if the findings in this project can be duplicated in a much broader scale.”

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The virtual health care pilot project received federal funding of $1.27 million through a Canada Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Grant for the next five years.

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The research team will be working with numerous Indigenous communities that fall within the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority.

Dr. Hansen will be working with Cassandra Opikokew Wajuntah from the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre and colleagues at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital to conduct the pilot project.


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