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Telemedicine program at St. Michael’s eliminating barriers to care

Toronto, May 8, 2015

By Heather Brown

Dr. Peter Vadas reviews his notes before a patient consultation via telemedicine
Dr. Peter Vadas, an allergist and immunologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, reviews his notes before a patient consultation via telemedicine. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

Accessing specialized care at St. Michael’s Hospital has never been easier. Through the hospital’s telemedicine program, close to 120 clinicians from 50 specialty programs such as cardiology, respirology (cystic fibrosis), nephrology and neurology have used telemedicine to care for patients without them having to leave their communities.

Most recently Drs. Najma Ahmed, Joao De Rezende-Neto, Bernard Lawless, John Marshall, Ori Rotstein and Sandro Rizoli, physicians from the trauma and acute-care surgery team, began holding trauma telemedicine followup clinics for patients primarily treated for abdominal or thoracic injuries.

This clinic was created to eliminate the barrier to follow-up care that some patients face given the great distances they have to travel to return to St. Michael’s.

Now these patients are connected to one of the trauma physicians, a nurse practitioner and resident via telemedicine. A nurse is present with the patient and is responsible for checking his or her vital signs and controlling the camera so the team at St. Michael’s, gathered in the telemedicine studio in the Shuter wing, has a clear view of the wound.

“In addition to monitoring a patient’s physical recovery, our trauma telemedicine clinics also provide an opportunity to check how patients are recovering socially and emotionally,” said Kirsty Nixon, a nurse practitioner on the trauma and acute-care surgery team.

“These are often harder elements to visualize than a wound. Having the ability to interact with ease via telemedicine makes these consultations just as valuable as in-person visits and helps us assess any struggles they may have around returning to everyday life, such as returning to work or school.”

  In 2014, 2,192 clinical telemedicine events were conducted with facilities as close as Bridge point Health in Toronto and as far away as Dryden Regional Health in Dryden Ontario.

Telemedicine has been used at St. Michael’s since 2004. Dr. Paul O’Connor, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, was the first physician to hold a one-on-one clinical consultation via telemedicine in April 2005. Dr. Peter Vadas was the first physician to provide allergy and immunology care for patients from Moosenee and Moose Factory, approximately 850 kilometers north of Toronto.

Both physicians remain active users of the technology.

“St. Michael’s is well known for caring for the disadvantaged and vulnerable in the community near the hospital, but telemedicine has allowed us to extend our community up to northern Ontario,” said Dr. Vadas. “Geography is no longer a barrier for these patients. With the click of a button I can see and interact with them on my computer from their community’s telemedicine location.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.