Canadian Society of Telehealth makes plea for broadband to boost distance health care

Toronto 29 November 2001Dr. Robert Filler, Director of Telehealth at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) and President of the Canadian Society of Telehealth (CST), called on the Canadian federal government to recognise the importance of telehealth and extend high-speed Internet access to more Canadian communities.

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"Telehealth is too important to Canadians' health to be put on the backburner", Dr. Filler stated. "Broadband infrastructure is essential to providing remote communities with greater access to medical specialists and increasing the services telehealth can deliver. Without broadband, its reach and potential are severely restricted."

Telehealth currently relies on ISDN lines for tele-conferencing between patients and health professionals at remote sites with doctors at research or medical centres. Increased access to high-speed facilities would provide an entirely new level of medical care to these patients as well as more remote consultations and health professional education.

Broadband infrastructure would mean the linking of emergency rooms and intensive care units (ICUs) at different sites 24 hours a day. It would also allow medical professionals to assess ultrasounds, monitor patient vitals, and participate in surgical procedures in real time. The instant sharing of digital data in the form of ultrasounds, digital examination, assessments or monitoring would provide more Canadians with access to the best medical resources.

"Telehealth has the potential to change the way health care in Canada is delivered, by using the most efficient technology possible for providing equal health services in all communities", stated Dr. Filler. "This has vital implications in the provision of health care in both remote and urban settings."

Specialists at the Hospital for Sick Children perform approximately twenty remote consultations with parents and children each month, using two-way video conferencing. As a partner in the Northern Ontario Remote Telecommunications Health (NORTH) Network, HSC links with approximately twelve communities in Northeastern and Central Ontario and connects to more than 25 telehealth sites across Canada and overseas for patient consultation and for continuing medical education.

Providing ongoing continuing health education for remote health care practitioners is an important component of telehealth. Clinicians who otherwise would have to travel to attend courses can access education events using the technology. Access to these programmes helps keep health care providers informed of new developments and assists in standardising care.

Since its inception in 1998, the Canadian Society for Telehealth has worked with the federal government to encourage the use of telecommunications and related technologies in the delivery of remote consultations and health education. Currently, there are approximately thirty telemedicine programmes across the country. The CST was a contributor to the National Broadband Task Force's June 2001 report, which recommended ways to bring the benefits of broadband technologies and applications to all Canadian communities.

The Canadian Society of Telehealth is a Canadian non profit health association promoting all aspects of telehealth, the use of communication and information technologies to deliver health care over large and small distances. The CST has more than 200 members from the health, academic, government and corporate sectors. The NORTH Network is a public-private telemedicine project providing specialist consultations, continuing medical education, and patient education via two-way television to rural areas in Ontario.

More news about Canadian telehealth initiatives is available in the following VMW articles:


Leslie Versweyveld

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