Telehealth continues to grow as a mainstream method of healthcare delivery across Canada, outpacing many other areas of eHealth, with clinical service sessions jumping 55% to 289,747 between 2010 and 2012 as documented in the recently released 2013 Canadian Telehealth Report.
The report is based on a survey of all provincial and territorial jurisdictions; a notable and important addition to this latest edition of the report is the profile of survey results from First Nations telehealth programs. Building on the 2008 and 2010 CTF telehealth surveys and the 2011 telehealth benefits adoption report by Canada Health Infoway, the latest numbers of this report indicate a 195% expansion in clinical telehealth sessions over the last six years and a 55% increase since 2010. See Figure 4 above. The COACH: Canada’s Health Informatics Association CTF: Canadian Telehealth Forum published the report April 8.
Published as a “snapshot” in time, the 2013 report shows that mental health care continues to be the most commonly delivered telehealth service across Canada, available in all 13 jurisdictions. This success reflects telehealth’s strength in eliminating distance barriers between patients and providers using various “tele” technologies that reduce travel time and costs. Telehealth has been instrumental in bringing mental health care to remote and rural communities where shortages of psychiatrists and psychologists have a particularly negative impact.
“In the case of chronic disease, it (telehealth) can empower patients so they can better manage their health and assume more responsibility. This reduces demand and adds capacity by increasing the productivity of clinicians and reducing acute
Recently retired CTF Executive Director John Schinbein pointed out that telehealth is an essential tool in helping to address many of the demands on the healthcare system by improving access, quality and productivity. “Telehealth is vital for bridging the growing gap between demand and capacity and moving towards patient-centric care,” he said. “In the case of chronic disease it can empower patients so they can better manage their health and assume more responsibility. This reduces demand and adds capacity by increasing the productivity of clinicians and reducing acute care utilization.”
Two chronic conditions, congestive heart failure (CHF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are prone to exacerbations and often require regular monitoring. As identified in the 2013 report, these two conditions are found to dominate the Home Telehealth Monitoring programs offered by the jurisdictions. “The new CTF Home Telehealth Community of Interest is being established by COACH,” noted Grant Gillis, COACH Executive Director, Forums and Practices, “to engage telehealth stakeholders to further explore and understand these and other emerging areas of telehealth services offered in the home.”
Other key report findings demonstrating growth in telehealth services include:
- Oncology, cardiology, diabetes and genetics clinical services are now provided in 12 of the 13 jurisdictions;
- Educational sessions, essential to providing patients with accurate, trusted health information, increased by 28% since 2010; and
- All jurisdictions are now using some form of e-scheduling for delivery telehealth.
With the 2013 edition, the Canadian Telehealth Report breaks new ground by profiling services available to First Nations. Noteworthy overall is the increasing cooperation and collaboration between federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations’ stakeholders towards greater availability of telehealth services across Canada. In particular, the report identifies that in select jurisdictions, home telehealth monitoring is becoming available, along with public websites for telehealth in First Nations’ regions. Further to this latter aspect, Alberta and Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) Telemedicine in Ontario provide web portals specifically for First Nations, with information on an array of services and community events, along with disease-specific information. Gains in the use of medical peripherals, desktop and mobile videoconferencing, and electronic scheduling of telehealth services for First Nations is also reported.
Moving forward, Grant noted there will be consideration for a more formal, methodological approach to the next edition of the report, scheduled for 2015. “COACH will be reaching out to the jurisdictional and First Nations’ telehealth programs, first to debrief on the results of the latest report but also to review the methodology of how the data is gathered and analyzed, and to discuss opportunities for improvement with respect to the survey approach, data taxonomy, and the consideration of new questions and indicators. Clearly, telehealth programs across Canada are growing and evolving, and COACH wants to enhance its engagement with these programs to ensure the report remains contemporary and able to measure and reflect the progress being achieved in telehealth services in a reliable, sound manner.”
Jurisdictions and First Nations telehealth programs and telehealth industry stakeholders at large will find the report to be a useful source of comparative information, as well as an important tool for the further development of their telehealth services.