Sheridan offers telemedicine training for staff

By Rosie Lombardi

Peter GacukTelehealth services are growing dramatically across Canada. According to a recent COACH study, there was a 45.7 percent jump in remote clinical sessions and a 41.5 percent increase in endpoint delivery locations, including community and home settings last year. To meet increasing demand for support staff, Toronto’s Sheridan College is offering a continuing education certificate program to train telemedicine facilitators who can handle tasks at endpoint offices from managing all the telemedicine technology, taking the patient’s vital signs and history, to presenting the case to the doctor at the other end of the video session.

Sheridan is launching its first telemedicine facilitation class this spring, says Peter Gacuk (pictured), program manager, engineering sciences and technology, faculty of continuing and professional studies. “This program enables a new generation of mid-tier healthcare support services careers in the electronic medical offices of today. They’re going to do health information gathering procedures, remote case presentation and they will facilitate the communication and interaction between a remote doctor and the patient.”

Telemedicine enables greater access to medical services using video, audio, secure networks and advanced health technologies to connect patients with doctors who are at different locations, says Gacuk. “We’re focusing on primary care to start, but tele-dermatology is growing very quickly, as is tele-psychology.”

Sheridan’s program imparts the technical skills telemedicine facilitators will need. “They’ll be using lots of cool technology. There’s the tele-stethoscope, cameras for taking stills and streaming video, electronic health records, and simulators.”

The program also focuses on developing office administration and managerial skills for many scenarios. “The workflow may differ in different institutions. In a large hospital or clinic, staff may do a series of telemedicine facilitation sessions, one after the other. But in more rural or remote communities, they’ll have to learn how to do everything: how to start up a delivery endpoint, how to set up the telemedicine room and the equipment, how to trouble shoot if things go wrong, and so on.”

Gacuk believes the program is suitable for several types of potential candidates. “We think people who are already in the healthcare industry – physician’s assistants, nurse’s aides, orderlies, personal support workers – will view this as a way to expand their skills for promotions. Nurses may want to obtain the technical skills needed to facilitate telemedicine sessions. We also think internationally trained medical professionals may view this as a good way to get Canadian experience and employment while they’re waiting for their credentials to be recognized.”

The medical community is reacting positively to the idea of telemedicine facilitators joining their ranks, says Gacuk. “Indirectly, we’re hearing, ‘We need this.’ Doctors and medical specialists recognize that telemedicine can help them extend their practices and use their time more efficiently. And the government is tracking any savings that telemedicine can enable, even in terms of patient travel expense and time and wait times.”

Gacuk says this first wave of telemedicine facilitators will be pioneers and trailblazers needing to establish their support role on healthcare services teams. “We’ve collected telemedicine facilitation principles, processes and best practices, and we teach them to our students. But we’re being very clear to our students who are entering and making an investment in this education that this is a new role.”

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