PEI

How technology is helping patients see the doctor in western P.E.I.

Patients at Western Hospital in Alberton who don't have a family doctor are now able to see a physician virtually. It's part of a six-month pilot-project with a Canadian company called Maple that started in August.

Western Hospital part of a first in Canada pilot program.

Two nurses demonstrate how telerounding works. (Brittany Spencer/CBC )

Patients at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., who don't have a family doctor are now able to see a physician virtually. It's part of a six-month pilot-project with a Canadian company called Maple that started in August.

In something called "telerounding," a cart with a monitor moves from patient to patient, along with hospital staff for video conferencing. The remote doctor has access to all the patient's files, and can order any diagnostics needed.  With the help of staff, the virtual doctor can do most of what any in-person doctor can.

"Where we have to do something like listen to lungs, there's two ways that we're able to do this," explained  Dr. Brett Belchetz, Maple CEO and an emergency room physician.

Andre Celliers, executive director of medical affairs says Health PEI will do a full review of the program when it is done. (Brittany Spencer/CBC )

"One is we work with the nursing staff where they will facilitate those manoeuvres and then we have access to other digital technology sometimes like digital stethoscopes and other examination devices that can assist with the examination to have it done directly as well."

Belchetz says all of the data is stored in Canada according to Canadian guidelines. Nine Canadian doctors are participating, and three who practice on P.E.I, but all are licensed for the Island. Belchetz says this pilot is a first in Canada, but he the hopes it will help solve a common problem across the country, doctor shortages.

"It allows areas of the country where they may actually have excess capacity of physician hours to help out in other parts of the country where their hours are really needed more urgently," he said.

Not a replacement for doctors

Health PEI wanted to sign on for the pilot as a way to help alleviate the doctor shortages in western P.E.I. where there have been two vacancies. Andre Celliers, executive director of medical affairs, says this is in no way a doctor-replacement program, but it will help until the two recently hired family doctors are up and running.  

"So they will be starting there over the next few months but it takes a while for them to be able to get up to speed and start to work in the hospital as well. So in the meanwhile we had a gap that we had a number of patients in the hospital that did not have a family doctor."

And at Western Hospital staff say patients are adjusting well.

Stephanie Gaudet, clinical nurse educator for Community Hospitals West, says at first patients were a bit nervous but quickly got the hang of it.

"Each day it seems like there's improvements along the way, they interact really well with the physicians and now when we come in in the morning with the cart they're quite excited to see the cart, they know they're going to see a physician each day," said Stephanie Gaudet, clinical nurse educator for Community Hospitals West.

After six months, Health PEI will evaluate all the data including talking to doctors, staff and patients to see what the possible next steps could be for the program.

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