In 2002, British Columbia decided to concentrate thoracic (chest) surgery in four key centres in the province. Kelowna, which had access to radiation and oncology services that thoracic surgeons need, became one of these centres.
But there were immediate challenges about how surgeons based in Kelowna would provide services to patients who lived hours away. The answer was telemedicine – using existing video connectivity to hold consultations with patients and to provide post-operative care.
The TeleThoracic Surgery program in Kelowna is one of the flagship telehealth programs offered by the Interior Health Authority. From Kelowna General Hospital, four thoracic surgeons and a nurse practitioner can use videoconferencing to see patients who are scattered throughout interior and northern B.C. The patients are examined first by local doctors, who might order tests before referring them to the thoracic team. Instead of travelling to Kelowna for an appointment, patients go to the nearest medical facility with a videoconferencing system, where they are joined by a nurse. Members of the thoracic team examine the patients remotely. Team members can also view CT scans, lab results, and electronic medical records. If patients need a biopsy or surgery, they travel to Kelowna. But they can usually return home for follow-up care. The program has saved patients and surgeons nearly four million kilometres in travel since 2003.
Dr. Bill Nelems is one of the driving forces behind Interior Health’s TeleThoracic Surgery program. He talks about the benefits to health care professionals and to patients.