Some Winnipeg medical specialists may not know about the locations of MBTelehealth, a provincewide service designed to serve patients in rural areas.
And a Killarney resident is asking why his upcoming telehealth appointment is in Brandon more than an hour away — even though the videolink service is set up eight blocks from his home.
Bernie Turner, 44, said when he went to re-book his followup consultation with his sleep specialist in Winnipeg, they made the appointment in Brandon even after telling them there’s a videolink set up in his area.
"I don’t see that as an acceptable answer as a taxpayer," Turner said.
According to Prairie Mountain Health top brass, each of the more than 120 sites cost at least $40,000 to install. There are 21 in the Prairie Mountain region.
The technology started being used in 2001, funded by the Manitoba government, the regional health authorities and the federal government. The operating costs come out of the regional health authorities’ budget.
The province boasts the technology is used to deliver specialized health-care services, education and administrative meetings — such as board meetings — to rural areas across Manitoba via a high-speed and secure link.
Simple procedures may be done while a specialist is connected through the system and the health authority is trying to push more clinical work be done via the televised link.
Each year, Prairie Mountain Health requests more sites be connected and communities have fundraised themselves for the service.
Following a year of appointments and tests in Winnipeg to address his sleep apnea, Turner said he simply had a followup with his doctor to see how things were going.
"I told them there is one in the hospital eight blocks from my house," he said. "They weren’t going to consider any other option other than Brandon."
He said no reason was given as to why the appointment was made so far away.
"They just said ‘no.’"
Penny Gilson, Prairie Mountain Health CEO, said she couldn’t give a reason as to why Turner was sent so far away but said "it could be due to a number of reasons."
"There are certain telehealth sites that have certain equipment and people trained to use that equipment that isn’t available at all telehealth sites," she said, or the Killarney site was booked up.
But Gilson also said it’s entirely possible the specialist had no idea the service was available in Killarney and Manitoba Health is trying to make sure doctors in Winnipeg know where the sites of the infrastructure are.
"We try to educate patients to indicate they know there’s telehealth in their community," Gilson said, which Tuner said he did.
"Specialists in Winnipeg may think they are doing someone a favour by suggesting that the followup occur in Brandon when in fact there is one closer to where they actually reside," she said, "so we’re constantly trying to educate."
Telehealth use continues to rise, she said. According to the province, it’s used more than 10,000 times per year.
"We would certainly endeavour to look into it and try and make sure people are getting access to telehealth as close to home as possible," Gilson said. "We try to make sure all of the specialists know of all the telehealth sites and the equipment and human resources available at those sites."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 23, 2013