This project studied how telehealth might improve the access to health services in rural, isolated communities — terms that describe a third of all First Nations and Inuit communities. Five First Nations communities were chosen to pilot this two-and-a-half year telehealth project. The goals were for families to “visit” distant hospitalized patients via video conferencing, for patients to be treated in their communities through electronic connections with health experts, and for isolated health staff to access training, information, and expertise. Costs were incurred through the introduction of technology and the need to service that technology (infrastructure costs averaged $245,000 to $305,000 per community). The technology raised legal and technical challenges regarding privacy and confidentiality, and it also introduced a need for training and technical support. Telehealth coordination required additional personnel with medical qualifications to facilitate communication with remote providers, a challenge in resource-constrained communities that are facing chronic nurse shortages. This study noted that telehealth “decreases efficiency” in terms of workload by increasing pressures on human resources at the local community level. It also increases the costs of certain allied health services. In order for First Nations and Inuit communities to connect with each other and participate in joint initiatives, telehealth equipment must be standardized and made interoperable. The report concludes that although this evaluation shows that telehealth can be successfully implemented in isolated First Nations communities, without the necessary human, financial, or technical resources, “there is a high risk of project failure.”
The full report for this project is available on the Health Canada website at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fnihb/phcph/telehealth/
This project was supported by the Health Transition Fund, which was created in 1997 to provide support for evidence-based decision-making in health care reform by supporting pilot and evaluation projects which test innovative approaches to health care delivery. The views expressed herein do no necessarily represent the official policy of federal, provincial, or territorial governments.