Telemedicine: A community perspective
By Tracy Stanley

Share this article:  

Developed so doctors could monitor astronauts in space, the concept of telemedicine isn't a new one. What has changed, however, is the technology that now allows global access to this way of practicing medicine. Physicians are starting to appreciate the worth and importance of being accessible to remote communities via video conference.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the mechanics of telemedicine but rather to underscore its value to the remote communities it serves.

In 2008, the World Health Organization put the cost of medical treatment for chronic diseases and the lost productivity they cause at $80 billion annually in Canada, according to Ontario Health Equity Council.

By facilitating timely access to specialized care and by accommodating regular monitoring of chronic health problems, telemedicine is working hard to meet the challenges of today and prepare for the needs of tomorrow. It provides not only a cost-effective solution to these challenges but also one that is centered on clients and their families.

So, what does telemedicine mean to a small, isolated community?

It means a person who has lived with incontinence for years has access to a counselor who will help develop a plan for strengthening muscles and regaining control.

It means a person with long-standing, but unrecognized, hypertension can see a renal specialist in spite of the fact that he doesn't drive and has no way to get to the specialist's office in a neighboring town.

It means an elderly person with dementia can be assessed by a gerontologist via video conferencing without too much disturbance in her routine. For caregivers, it means less upset, less deviation from the norm and no time spent sitting in a waiting room full of strangers.

It means a person with an unresolved skin rash can have images of the condition sent to a dermatologist in a larger center for review and receive a working diagnosis and treatment plan within days rather than waiting for a face-to-face dermatology appointment.

In all of these situations and many more like them across the country, lives have been positively impacted by telemedicine's ability to connect those in need of something to those who can provide it.

Telemedicine: No expense, no travel, no problem.

Tracy Stanley was an acute-care nurse for more than 40 years. From the delivery room to the operating room, she witnessed the beginning of life and the end of it. In December 2011, Tracy made a significant career change when she took a job as telemedicine coordinator in a community health center.