Telehealth has overcome major hurdles to widespread use with the proliferation of tablets and smartphones and their ability to share high quality photos and videos at a low cost throughout most of North America. “Telehealth” encompasses a variety of telemedicine services for patients and clinicians, and professionals working in the telehealth field expect it to grow rapidly in the next few years. The Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on having healthcare providers organize healthcare teams, technology, and knowledge around the needs of patients will also be a stimulus to telehealth’s expansion.
Canada has been using telemedicine since the early 1980s, utilizing standard telephone lines to slowly transmit single video images (also known as “freeze frame” video) of injured people living in rural villages in Northwest Ontario and on offshore drilling rigs in Newfoundland. Physicians assessed the images and provided crucial triage advice and assessed if evacuation was necessary. Since then, every Canada province has used telehealth in some capacity. A Manitoba Telehealth network that has been up and running since 2002 currently connects 23 healthcare facilities, providing access to medical specialists to patients and physicians living and practicing in rural areas.
As the North America moves towards greater telehealth expansion, many are working to determine when it’s appropriate to use telehealth for emergency services. “We need to make sure that we are doing the right things, the best way for the patient,” said Trever Strome, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Manitoba College of Medicine. “Telehealth has a great set of technologies to use, but like any other medical intervention, we need to determine if and what is most appropriate. When implementing any telemedicine application that would be a substitute for an on-site visit to a healthcare provider, it is important to determine in advance if this is comparable to a face-to-face visit. We have done well providing telemedicine services to more remote healthcare centers, but it is important to start quantifying this experience to ensure that patients are receiving the best care possible.”