Program using remote presence in north to be expanded
October 5, 2016
SASKATOON – The government of Saskatchewan is pumping $500,000 into expanding the use of robots that have allowed Saskatoon doctors to examine children in Pelican Narrows.
The new technology allows a healthcare provider to interact with patients by using a robot, which is equipped with two-way video, sound and medical instruments. The solution will now become a permanent fixture in a northern Saskatchewan community, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported.
Remote presence technology has allowed patients in remote locations to stay home, yet receive the same level of care as patients in a major hospital. That’s because the patient can be examined remotely by a skilled physician, who makes use of the on-site robot and the help of a nurse.
Pediatric intensivist Dr. Tanya Holt (pictured) says many people are concerned about the lack of human contact with this technology, but there isn’t much difference between using the robot and being there in person.
Holt says there are attachments that plug into the robot that allow her to check eyes, ears, breathing, and heart beats as if she was standing in the room.
The total cost of a robot, which is sourced from a company in California, is $85,000. Reviews are underway to determine the best locations for this technology.
Here’s why remote presence technology has been a success.
Results: “The pilot has gone so well, really beyond our expectations,” said Dr. Ivar Mendez, who heads the department of surgery at the University of Saskatchewan. Most children were able to be treated in their community, while 40 percent of those who needed to be transported didn’t have to go all the way to Saskatoon because they didn’t need intensive care. Pelican Narrows now also has increased capacity as nurses there get used to treating acutely ill children, Mendez said.
Expansion: Increased funding means services can be expanded to other underserved communities, Dr. Mendez said. “That is extremely important. Because if we, for example, are able to provide the services to five more communities, eventually those services we provide and the experience we gain will allow us to one day expand this to the whole province.”
Culture: Dr. Veronica McKinney, director of northern medical services at the U of S, noted that more than 85 percent of the population in the three northern health regions is indigenous, an area with 40,000 people in 70 communities that’s almost the size of the Yukon. Sixty-five per cent of the population has a non-English first language. “So the difficulties people experience when they come to a place like Saskatoon to try to get healthcare is huge,” she said. “This actually changes the game dramatically. It allows people to get the care they need right where they are.”
Bedside manner: The real time technology is accurate and reliable, said Dr. Holt, who demonstrated a checkup of Pelican Narrows four-year-old Grace Dorion, who has chronic respiratory issues. Holt also referred to a photo of the girl hugging the robot she appears on. “I’ve definitely developed a rapport with her to the point that sometimes when I enter a room in Pelican Narrows via the robot, I forget that I am the robot. When Gracie reached out to hug the robot it was very hard not to reach back.”