Telehealth brings virtual experts to Yukon communities

Yukon’s medical system just went Star Trek. Every community now has access to Telehealth, a video-conferencing system that gives Yukoners…

Yukon’s medical system just went Star Trek.

Every community now has access to Telehealth, a video-conferencing system that gives Yukoners access to medical professionals hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away.

Yukon is the first Canadian jurisdiction to have every one of its communities hooked up, said Yukon Health Minister Brad Cathers last week.

“Today, every Yukon community has the ability to link through the Yukon Telehealth Network to provide increased health services and supports within that community,” he said.

“This is a true feat of technology. The contribution from Canada Health Infoway and the hard work of dedicated people over the past number of years ensured that today.”

The Telehealth system allows patients in places like Old Crow and Dawson to connect, via a variety of video-conferencing units, with health-care professionals in places like Whitehorse and Vancouver.

Much of the Yukon has had Telehealth since 2002, but last week Ross River, Faro, Teslin and Carcross officially received the service.

The system cost about $2.5 million.

The move means patients with conditions such as diabetes will not always have to go south for hours to make appointments that only last a matter of minutes, said Cathers.

“Individuals diagnosed with diabetes are not always able to travel to Whitehorse on a regular basis for training and support,” he said.

“The Diabetes Education Centre staff can connect with their clients in the communities through the Telehealth network in the rural health centres to provide one-on-one sessions.

“This means people don’t have to leave their communities to get the services they need.”

The use of video-conferencing technology is going to take some getting used to, but it will offer the Yukon substantial benefits, said Roberta Staveley, a Telehealth consultant that worked on the Yukon project.

“This is really just a tool, like a fax machine.”

What the video conferencing equipment means, is places like nursing stations can connect with doctors in other communities and use the equipment to show the doctor what’s going on with a patient.

“Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Staveley.

The system can also be used to save families money by allowing them to visit sick relatives without having to jump on a plane, she said.

“People in Old Crow could go into a room and connect with their relatives receiving care in Whitehorse.”

Brenda Baxter is a rural mental-health consultant in Dawson City.

She’s used the Telehealth system to connect with patients face-to-face when she was hundreds of miles away.

Some patients take a little while to get used to the technology but appreciate the visual aspect of video conferencing, compared to telephone conversations, she said.

She said it also allows her to observe her patients.

“A mental-health assessment is more than just asking questions and hearing answers. It’s also about observation,” she said.