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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Optimizing the benefits of Telehealth

Simon Hagens is Director, Benefits Realization, Canada Health Infoway.

Thanks to the Health Council of Canada for putting a focus on the progress made in Telehealth and emphasizing the role of measurement and evaluation in informing and shaping successful projects.  A focus on benefits realization is an important aspect of Infoway’s strategy.  Evaluations help us to identify and invest in approaches which are delivering value to patients, clinicians, and the health system as a whole, and also help us to identify the enablers required to unlock the full potential.  This has been very true of our Telehealth investments, as detailed in our 2011 report on Telehealth Benefits and Adoption.
Telehealth is truly becoming a mainstream healthcare delivery channel.  We are excited about this progress, and very optimistic about future advances with respect to Telehealth technologies.
As the Council report describes, Canada is an international leader in using videoconferencing to provide access to a variety of health care services across our vast geography.  Virtually every jurisdiction has an established telehealth network in place. Recent analysis indicates that the 35% growth rate (annual year over year growth, since 2005) of these services has continued through 2011.  The value of telehealth is becoming increasingly evident to Canadians living in rural and remote areas, some of whom can now access specialist expertise right in their homes and communities, avoiding costly and inconvenient travel to urban centres.

The potential of Telehealth goes far beyond videoconferencing, however, and our more recent Infoway investments support promising innovations that evaluations show are enabling the transformation of the health system.
For example, telehomecare is combining telehealth technology and home care principles as a new model for supporting chronic disease management. Telehomecare uses sophisticated easy-to-use equipment to link patients with health care professionals.  It empowers patients to self-manage their chronic illnesses, thereby reducing hospital and emergency room visits.  A new study in Quebec (French only) found equivalent savings of $1,368 per patient annually with telehomecare compared to traditional home care.  A drastic reduction (61%) in hospitalization rates, as well as reduced average length of stay is key to the health system, and for patients it’s all about access to the support they need to manage their own health.  This study strengthens existing Canadian evidence and also reflects international research.

Secondly, telepathology is being used in some provinces to share specialized expertise. For example, 21 sites in Quebec are now operational with slide image scanners. When the community of Sept-Îles lost their only on-site pathologist, the local hospital was able to continue providing surgical services as usual by accessing specialist pathologists at a regional pathology centre via telepathology.   One of our recent investments will allow expertise to be accessed across provincial borders.  The Multi-Jurisdictional Telepathology (MJT) Project will create provincial hubs within Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Ontario, and then develop a network of pathology reference centres across Canada to facilitate consultation among sub-specialists.
The examples above in telehomecare and telepathology illustrate the future potential for these technologies to improve patient access and to improve the flexibility and sustainability of the health system in these areas and others.  In both cases, evaluations are showing that getting the technology right is important, but optimizing the benefits also requires attention to broader changes, such as evolving roles of clinicians and support staff, patient engagement, and policy change.  The Council report rightfully celebrates what has been achieved, and reminds us to maintain a focus on using technology as an enabler for better health and healthcare.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Simon...This is a great news for the development of technology in today's generation. Opting for Healthcare Video conferencing software is one of the best solution to provide good medical care for patients in the remote places and for the patients who can't reach doctors in time. Very Helpful one.