Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association, is in Whitehorse this week to meet with members of the Yukon Medical Association. (Submitted)

President of the Canadian Medical Association wants to hear Yukon concerns

Dr. Gigi Osler says virtual healthcare might help in rural and remote areas

Virtual health care is just one of the things that might be able to help Yukoners, said Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

It’s not something she’d want to address though, without first speaking to the Yukon’s medical community.

“I always say a lot of problems are local and a lot of solutions have to be local,” said Osler, sitting in a cafe in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 1.

“I don’t think it’s our job to come in and kind of impose the solutions, but more importantly, what are the problems that Yukoners are seeing? What are the issues that Yukon doctors are seeing? Because they’re the ones best positioned to know the solutions rather than us.”

Those questions are what brought Osler to Whitehorse for the annual general meeting of the Yukon Medical Association, held Nov. 2. It’s also why she visited Laura Salmon, director of the First Nations Health Program at Whitehorse General Hospital.

“I hadn’t heard about it prior to coming here, but if there’s good work that’s being done in a community that’s having a really meaningful impact, particularly for First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, we want to know about it so that we can share it,” she said.

Salmon said she stressed to Osler that a key part of the success of the program, which has been in place for 25 years, is that its services were negotiated and included in the Hospital Act.

“It’s not just a nice-to-have in the short term,” said Salmon. “It’s legislated and came about a long time ago.”

Salmon said she walked Osler through the building, showing off the Elder suite, for families who need to stay at the hospital overnight, and the Na’Ku Healing Room, which is available for families to gather.

Salmon also highlighted the fact that cultural competence is important and available — so much so that more than 60 per cent of staff have been through the First Nations 101 course offered by Yukon College. She said she thinks the significance placed on that kind of competence has been a big part of the program’s integration.

Salmon said it’s not the kind of program you can tack on — it has to be given the time and attention to be made part of the hospital — and it’s not necessarily the kind of program you can just drop into another community.

“Most people would know and, if not, I would tell them, that to develop something to meet the needs in a different region, it needs to have the proper consultation and reflection of what the local needs are there,” she said. “This program might just show what’s possible.”

One of the things that might be possible and might help address issues faced by Yukoners, including long drives into Whitehorse from the communities and difficulty in finding a family doctor, is virtual health care.

Of course, it’s not applicable to all appointments and there are privacy policies to develop and deal with. As well, the issue of internet speed would have to be addressed in more remote places including the Yukon, but it’s a possibility that excites Osler (and seven out of 10 of all Canadians surveyed by the CMA in August).

“The way our health care is administered and delivered is decades old,” Osler said.

“And there’s all this technology out there that could be used.”

She said hospitals in cities including Winnipeg have used technology to monitor patients at home, virtually.

As an ENT surgeon herself, Osler said it could be useful in post-surgery follow-ups with, for example, kids who have T-tubes inserted. If a child is doing well post-op, meetings with ENT doctors can be very short.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” she said, if parents didn’t have to take a day off, drive into town, and pay for parking just to hear that things were looking good?

That could be possible with virtual health care and scopes that can transmit images to doctors in cities.

Another thing that would have to be in place for that, she said, is a pan-Canadian license, something the CMA is looking into already.

Right now, Canadian doctors have to be licensed to work in specific provinces and territories. Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been, said Osler. But she thinks a lot of doctors would support a pan-Canadian license.

“When I think of an innovation, I think a lot of times we think of the technology innovation and stuff,” she said. “I think innovation has to be changing the way we think about doing things. Because doing things the same way over and over again just isn’t going to work. The health care system’s changing, our health is changing. Our patient population is changing. So we need to start really thinking about ‘we’ve always done it that way, but why?’ Why not do it differently?”

It’s something she hopes to discuss with the YMA this week, along with concerns the YMA has brought up, including homelessness, alcohol use disorders, and prioritizing mental health.

“Which I think is really incredible to hear,” she said. “Across Canada, mental health services are in such demand, access isn’t what it should be and the demand is growing so I’m gratified to hear that that’s a priority for them because I think it needs to be a priority for all provinces and all communities.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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