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Could Telemedicine Cuts Have Local Impact?

On May 8 it was announced that the funding for Telemedicine services has been cut and the Ontario Telemedicine Network has had to lay off 15% of their staff… 44 jobs… which creates a major impact on both rural and Northern Ontario. Each has come to rely on these services as part of ongoing continuity of care.

Technology has changed how we communicate, how we work, our entertainment, and even how we drive.  Technology has been a welcome addition to health care as well, changing the system from paper-based to electronic. Reports and results can now be received in about a fifth of the time it used to take

Photo: Alamy Stock

Telemedicine was launched in 1998 and was aimed specifically at satisfying the medical needs of people living in remote locations. It uses cameras, monitors and other diagnostic equipment to connect patients to specialists who are not local.

The system started with the Sunnybrook Hospital to Timmins-Kirkland Lake-Cochrane connection and the network has grown to include more than 1200 sites across Ontario. It includes more than 3200 doctors both on the referring side and specialists providing care long distance.

The service that the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) created has expanded further to allow cancer centres and cardiac/respiratory care clinics to follow-up with patients in their homes and provide ongoing assessment, coaching and assistance that patients might require to manage their conditions.

Photo: Alamy Stock

In May 2013 the Woolwich Community Health Centre became part of the Network and began connecting patients to the specialists they needed to see without having to leave St. Jacob’s.  The two main areas they focused on are psychiatry and dermatology, both specialties that are lacking in the number of doctors practicing, but are high in demand.  In times of need, the Centre can also reach out to cancer doctors (oncologists) and surgeons to have patients seen in a timely manner and reduce the travel burden on their patients.

The Waterloo-St. Jacob’s Urgent Care Clinic across from the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market also opened a few years ago and also offers OTN services to patients.

At this time the OTN has indicated that frontline staff will not be impacted but it is too early to tell what the full impact will be until they finish their reorganization.  Hopefully it won’t be necessary to cut services, but only time will tell.

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