KO Telehealth: New Service
Getting Ready to Improve Community Access to Healthcare Visit
Story published in the Feb 7, 2002 Wawatay
By : Keewaytinook Okimakanak Staff Contribution
Four years ago. That's
when the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Chiefs saw for the first time what
telehealth could do for their communities. They were at the Ottawa
Heart Institute watching a videoconference between a Cardiologist
and a patient in the Northwest Territories.
They listened to a heart
beating in a clinic thousands of kilometres away and they saw first
hand how timely access to telehealth improved personal and community
well-being. That's when the telehealth vision was formed. Joe Meekis,
chief of Keewaywin First Nation at the time, asked, "why is
this equipment and service not in our health clinic today?"
Plenty has happened since
then. For the past three years, KO Director of Health Services,
Orpah McKenzie, and K-Net Manager, Brian Beaton, have been piecing
together a telehealth model that will work in remote First Nations
communities. They are close to achieving what KO Executive Director,
Geordi Kakepetum, describes as "a revolution in healthcare
access for First Nations."
All of this work started
to come together last January when Northern Chiefs joined Dr. Ed
Brown and NORTH Network in a region-wide telehealth consultation.
When asked if they thought telehealth could improve the level and
quality of healthcare in their communities people in Deer Lake,
Fort Severn, Keewaywin, North Spirit Lake and Poplar Hill responded
with a loud 'Yes!'.
Since then, KO Health
Services has been working with its health partners to make telehealth
happen. The most visible part of this process has been the technology
-- delivering, installing and testing telemedicine workstations
and building a private and secure network.
But healthcare really
is all about relationships and KO Health Services has been working
hard to make sure that telehealth has a human face. Clinical staff
at regional facilities like the Sioux Lookout Zone, Thunder Bay
Regional Hospital and the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centres will
be supporting telehealth so that people can see health care professionals
who have northern experience and who know northern people.
Local telehealth coordinators
- Lily Sawanas, Jordina Skunk, Mary Kakegamic, Julie Meekis and
Rita Wassaykeesic - will be working with the KO Regional Telehealth
Coordinator - Christine Penner Polle - and the Regional Medical
Directors for Telehealth - Drs. Claudette Chase and Aaron Feldstein
- to make sure that the program responds to community needs and
conditions. John Rowlandson (KO's Telehealth Project Manager), Gibbet
Stevens (Telehealth Communications Coordinator) and Elizabeth Pahkala
(Health Secretary) make up the rest of KO's Telehealth team helping
to make this project successful.
Donna Williams - KO's
Telehealth Educator - is working with the Coordinators to prepare
them for service delivery in early April. By the end of March each
Coordinator will have completed an intensive training program so
that they can provide the best possible telehealth service to people
in their communities.
During the next few months
the telehealth vision will be implemented. Slowly - in baby steps
- to make sure people enjoy the service and are satisfied with the
Health partners will
start to deliver priority services like telepsychiatry, paediatric
consults and patient education programs. Local health workers will
participate in continuing health education and families will be
able to use videoconferencing tools to visit with relatives who
are in hospital.
For KOHS Director, Orpah
McKenzie, "It's only the beginning. Right now, telehealth is
a community project and the communities will take it where they
need it to go."
Pictures for this article
Barbara Roche, the Zone
Hospital's Telehealth Coordinator, testing the new telemedicine
equipment - January 2002
The telemedicine equipment
in the Fort Severn Nursing Station - January 2002
Evaluating various telemedicine
units at the Zone Hospital - August 2001