With more than 5,700 telehealth systems in at least 1,175 communities across the country, Canada is a global leader in improving access to care by connecting patients and care providers in different, and frequently remote locations, according to a new national study released Monday, announced Dr. Jennifer Zelmer, Senior Vice-President, Clinical Adoption and Innovation, Canada Health Infoway.
Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) commissioned the study, which was conducted by Praxia Information Intelligence and Gartner, in order to gauge the current use and benefits achieved from Telehealth investments made by the federally-funded organization, provinces and territories, the federal government, and others.
"Across the country, use of telehealth is growing rapidly, bridging the distance between patients and their care providers," said Dr. Zelmer. "Canadians do not have to travel as often to receive care, and the study reports improvements in access to care, quality, and productivity valued at millions of dollars last year."
Telehealth is used for a wide range of clinical services, from mental health to cancer and stroke care. It can include linking patients to health care providers through live videoconferencing or having equipment in a patient's home that transmits vital information such as blood pressure and respiratory function to a patient's health team for frequent monitoring. Health professionals also have the ability to transmit images of wounds or other health images to specialists for assessment and advice.
The study, entitled Telehealth Benefits and Adoption – Connecting People and Providers Across Canada, indicates that almost 260,000 Telehealth sessions were held in 2010, supporting services such as remote care, education for health providers and administrative meetings. Nearly half of the clinical Telehealth sessions delivered care to patients from rural and remote communities, which are home to 21 per cent of Canadians. The report estimates that Canadians who received care via telehealth rather than travelling to other communities for care saved about $70 million in personal travel costs in 2010. In addition, there were benefits to the health system valued at $55 million per year (e.g. because of avoided federal or provincial subsidized travel costs or reduced hospitalizations for patients with chronic diseases).
The report's findings are based on utilization data provided by the Canadian Telehealth Forum of COACH: Canada's Health Informatics Association, the organization representing Canada's telehealth community. Also informing the findings are more than 20 evaluations of telehealth projects from across Canada, one-on-one interviews with telehealth experts, a review of more than 200 documents on the effectiveness of telehealth, and other data.
"Canada is a global telehealth leader. We have the potential to further its use until it becomes a standard tool for health professionals to deliver care in remote, rural and urban settings," said Liz Loewen, Director, Coordination of Care, Manitoba eHealth, who also serves as Chair/COACH Board Member for the Canadian Telehealth Forum. "We are well on our way, however, as noted in the report, critical success factors including change management and adoption must be addressed in order to fully realize Telehealth's potential."