​​​​​​​​Dr. Laura Dawson (pictured on screen) is an avid user of UHN’s Telehealth program
The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s Dr. Laura Dawson (pictured on screen) is an avid user of UHN’s Telehealth program, which allows her to consult with out-of-city patients in modern “face-to-face” interactions. (Photo: UHN)

You Skype with your children away at university and with colleagues across the province – but what if you could Skype with your health care providers?

Medicine without borders

This is the idea behind UHN's Telehealth program – bringing new meaning to the phrase 'medicine without borders' by enabling clinicians to meet, interact and consult with patients through the lens of a webcam over a secured, private network.

On Jan. 2, 2014, Telehealth celebrated the milestone of connecting its 20,000th patient. That patient is 75-year-old Donald St. Onge, who is fascinated by the program and the fact that he can talk to his doctor "through the small camera on the big box."

Quality care "with less hassle," says St. Onge

Telehealth accommodates out-of-city and out-of-province patients required to travel to UHN hospitals for specialized care. Rather than making the trip to Toronto for pre- or post-surgery consults, psychiatry sessions or oncology check-ups, patients can head to their local health centre where staff connects them with UHN clinicians via video conferencing on a secure network.

"This is the first time I've ever used this kind of technology and I have to say, it makes my life a heck of a lot easier," said St. Onge, an oncology patient from rural Northern Ontario. "I'm still receiving the same quality consults and care from my doc, only with less hassle."


Travel savings for out-of-town patients

 "The program launched just over 10 years ago with the goal of using modern technology to enhance the quality and ease of health care," said Dana Chmelnitsky, program manager of Telehealth. "In that time, we have helped thousands of patients save travel expenses and endless hours on the road by creating this virtual clinician's office."

 "Most of my patients are people with liver cancer who may be candidates for radiation therapy, so the fact that they don't have to travel as often for appointments – which can actually put their body through more stress – is a huge help," said Dr. Laura Dawson, radiation oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. "Telehealth allows me to meet with these patients face-to-face, faster than would be possible otherwise, to assess their suitability and interest in treatment – the only difference is that we're not physically in the same space."

The interaction may not take place in the same physical space, but patients don't seem to have a problem with that. In fact, in a recent patient satisfaction survey, 100 per cent of Telehealth users indicated a high level of satisfaction with the program, and save up to $2,000 in travel costs per appointment.  

Telehealth does not eliminate patient travel entirely as treatment and surgery must be done on-site, however it gives clinicians the opportunity to conduct virtual appointments where applicable by providing Telehealth software on desktop computers at all four UHN sites.  

"I would encourage all UHN doctors to use the services provided by Telehealth," said Dawson. "It's easy to use, and is a huge time saver for clinicians and patients."

For more information on UHN's Telehealth program and how to become a registered user, please contact Dana Chmelnitsky at dana.chmelnitsky@uhn.ca or 14-6223. 

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