Digital stethoscopes enable remote care for heart failure patients across the Island

Cardiac and Internal Medicine specialists at Heart Function Clinics located in Nanaimo, Campbell River and Victoria are listening to the heartbeats of patients who live in communities across Vancouver Island in real time with the addition of digital stethoscopes to existing telehealth technologies.

“Island patients and their families are benefiting from the latest in medical technology,” said Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong. “The application of TeleCardiology across Vancouver Island is the result of the hard work of the specialists and staff at VIHA.”

The TeleCardiology program uses video conferencing telehealth technology and the digital stethoscope. This technology enables patients to remain in their communities and meet with their cardiac and internal medicine specialists who can listen to the heartbeat of patients remotely. TeleCardiology benefits patients by providing follow-up cardiac health care closer to home and without the stress or financial burden of long distance travel.

“Telehealth breaks down the physical obstacles and long distances,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon. “Video conferencing technology allows patients living in more rural or remote communities to be able to access specialized health care more easily.”

B.C.’s health authorities partnered to purchase the digital stethoscopes to ensure that all TeleCardiology programs across the province have compatible equipment.

“TeleCardiology enhances the collaborative approach to delivering cardiac care to the patient,” said Dr. Elizabeth Swiggum, a Victoria-based cardiologist. “It is like having the patient sitting next to you.”

Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) is the first health authority in BC to roll out the TeleCardiology program using the digital stethoscopes.

“TeleCardiology is a wonderful program for heart patients who reside in Vancouver Island communities that are a significant distance from cardiac specialists located at our larger acute care facilities,” said Don Hubbard, VIHA Board Chair. “The addition of these digital stethoscopes allows cardiologists to provide heart patients with specialized follow-up cardiac care closer to their patients’ homes which in turn, improves their quality of life.”

VIHA acquired the digital stethoscopes with funding provided by Canada Health Infoway, the federally funded organization investing in electronic health record systems with the provinces and territories.

“Today’s announcement is about improving the patient experience by breaking down barriers to care,” said Richard Alvarez, President and CEO, Canada Health Infoway.  “Many Canadians live great distances from the specialized care they need and telehealth can help to bridge the gap.  In fact, investments in telehealth across Canada eliminated over 47 million kilometres of patient travel in 2010 alone.”

VIHA has made significant investments in telehealth and is recognized as a leader in delivering telehealth programs to support better health outcomes for our patients. Currently, 14 VIHA programs provide telehealth services in 17 communities at 41 different sites. Over 7,700 telehealth consults have taken place since the inception of the telehealth program in 2007. VIHA estimates that over two million kilometres of travel and close to a million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions across Vancouver Island have been reduced since the inception of the telehealth program.


What is TeleCardiology?


TeleCardiology is one of 14 telehealth programs available at the Vancouver Island Health Authority. TeleCardiology uses live two-way video conferencing telehealth technology to connect heart patients living in rural and remote communities across Vancouver Island with cardiac and internal medicine specialists in Victoria, Nanaimo, and Campbell River. These specialists are able to provide follow-up consultations using a television screen, video camera, microphone and digital stethoscope that run over a secure VIHA network.


Where is TeleCardiology available?


TeleCardiology is currently available in Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Port Alice, Sointula, Gold River, Campbell River, Courtenay/Comox, Parksville/Qualicum, Port Alberni, Tofino and Nanaimo. The program will continue to expand to additional sites.


How many heart patients will benefit from TeleCardiology?


It is estimated that upwards of 300 follow-up patients a year could benefit from this initial roll out of the service.


What is telehealth?


Telehealth uses advanced information and communication technology to connect clinicians and patients over long distance. Telehealth programs enhance patient access to specialty services and provide clinical support in remote/rural areas. Patients benefit by not having to endure the stress and financial costs associated with travelling long distances for treatment.


What VIHA programs and services utilize telehealth?


In addition to TeleCardiology, the following services are actively provided using telehealth: oncology, psychiatry, genetics, eating disorders, thoracic surgery, child and youth mental health, atrial fibrillation, renal, speech pathology, pediatrics and TeleHome monitoring (in-home monitoring for heart patients).


How many patients benefit from telehealth?


To date, 7,700 patient-physicians consultations have been initiated in over 17 communities across VIHA. By 2013, 2.7 million kilometres of patient travel across Vancouver Island will have been eliminated, amounting to the prevention of 750 tons of Green House Gas emissions.


Do patients like using telehealth Services?


Patient and provider satisfaction with VIHA’s telehealth program has been overwhelmingly positive, and the quantitative benefits for the health authority are beginning to emerge.  Below are some of our patients’ comments:

“Did not have to travel to Victoria in the snow.  Would have had to cancel appointment.”

“I am having some vertigo/dizziness and the opportunity to have to NOT travel was significantly comforting. I would welcome this opportunity any time.”

“The telehealth consult is a very good addition to our health. To travel to Victoria is 1) very expensive 2) reduces pollution & saves the specialist a lot of time.”


How were the digital stethoscopes funded?


BC’s health authorities partnered to select a standard digital stethoscope to ensure that all TeleCardiology programs across the province have compatible equipment. VIHA is the first health authority in BC to roll out the TeleCardiology program using the digital stethoscopes. VIHA acquired 32 digital stethoscopes with 50 per cent of funding provided by Canada Health Infoway. The value of each digital stethoscope is approximately $450.


Why is telehealth so important to Healthcare today?


Telehealth aims to significantly impact some of the most challenging problems of our current healthcare system: access to care, cost effective delivery, and distribution of limited providers. Telehealth allows for improved access and improved health outcomes in cost effective ways.

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