Mobile teleophthalmology project brings cutting edge retinal screening technology to rural and remote First Nations communities on Vancouver Island

April 16, 2010 (Victoria, B.C.) - Vancouver Island residents living in 51 rural and remote First Nations communities who are at high risk of developing diseases of the retina related to diabetes are benefitting from a new mobile retinal screening service being delivered in their communities. These Mobile TeleOphthalmology units are operated by specially trained nurses and technicians who take retinal scans of patients and send the images via a secure link to retinal specialists in Victoria for assessment.

The TeleOphthalmology project was officially launched today in Nanaimo at the Snuneymuwx First Nation Long House Community Kitchen. The launch was attended by representatives of the Federal Government, Vancouver Island First Nations Chiefs and Elders, the Inter Tribal Health Authority and the Vancouver Island Health Authority. The celebration included the blessing of the TeleOphthalmology mobile units and traditional First Nations drumming and singing.

“Telehealth projects are bringing specialized health care directly into remote Canadian communities that need it most,” said Richard Alvarez, President and CEO, Canada Health Infoway. “This TeleOphthalmology project is just one example of the collaborative power of electronic health record systems, linking urban specialists with rural and underserviced communities, increasing access to much-needed disease prevention and care.”

Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and Canada Health Infoway are jointly funding the $1,040,000 TeleOphthalmology project, contributing $404,000 and $636,000 respectively.

“Improving the health status of Aboriginal people on Vancouver Island is one of VIHA’s key priorities as identified in our five-year strategic plan,” said Jac Kreut, VIHA Board Chair. “We are delighted to be a part of this innovative project that gives residents living in remote and rural Vancouver Island communities who are at risk of developing diseases of the retina the same access to retinal screening services that are available to people living in urban centres.”

The British Columbia First Nations Health Plan estimates that the rate of diabetes among First Nations people is up to 40 percent higher than other British Columbians. Diabetic prevalence among the approximately 35,000 First Nations people living within the VIHA region is estimated to be 2,200.

The Inter Tribal Health Authority (ITHA) is leading the project with clinical support from the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA). Patient screening is now underway and will take place in 51 rural and remote communities across Vancouver Island over the next 12 months.

“The increased access to retinal screening provided by the TeleOphthalmology project will advance the doctors’ ability to diagnose and track vision problems related to diabetes," said Norman Lewsey, Executive Director, ITHA. “This valuable service can lead to early treatment and possible prevention of vision loss for First Nations on Vancouver Island.”

Four primary screening clinics are located on Vancouver Island in Sooke, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Alert Bay. The screening equipment used in the clinics is portable, and will be taken to remote and rural First Nations communities where needed on Vancouver Island to conduct mobile retinal screening clinics.

Canada Health Infoway is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government. The TeleOphthalmology Project is just one of a number of electronic health projects Infoway is investing in across Canada. Infowayjointly invests in projects with every province and territory to accelerate the development and adoption of electronic health record systems in Canada. Fully respecting patient confidentiality, these secure systems will provide clinicians and patients with the information they need to better support safe care decisions and manage their own health. Accessing this vital information quickly will foster a more modern and sustainable health care system for all Canadians.

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For more information:

Valerie Wilson
VIHA Communications
Tel.: (250) 713-3911

Catherine Atyeo
Media Relations Officer
Health Canada
Tel.: (604) 666-8396

Kelly Wadham
Director, E-Health and Research
Tel.: 1-877-777-4842

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