The 19 virtual health (or telehealth) care sites across B.C. have been a four-year collaborative project between Child Health BC, BC Children’s Hospital and the provincial health authorities.
The latest virtual health care sites are opening in Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Chilliwack General Hospital so the parents of more than 300,000 children in the Fraser Health region can access more than 40 areas of subspecialty care for their children without the stress and costs of a long journey.
“The virtual health appointments definitely give us peace of mind,” says Amanda Sidhu, mother of 11-year-old BC Children’s patient, Kaitlyn Sidhu. “Every couple of months, we see a doctor at BC Children’s. We live in Mission so not having to make the two-hour drive to the hospital means I don’t need a second person with me to watch Kaitlyn in the car and I don’t have to take the day off work.”
Kaitlyn has semi lobar holoprosencephaly, which has triggered side effects including seizures, diabetes and bone issues. Because of her illnesses, she is in a wheelchair, non-verbal and tube-fed. The virtual health appointments make life easier for her.
“Kaitlyn doesn’t like long car rides and she associates the hospital with surgery,” says Sidhu. “The virtual health care appointments are way less stressful for her.”
BC Children’s pediatric neurologist Dr. James Lee won a Hudson Scholar award and is working on a physician quality improvement initiative related to virtual health. He says virtual appointments benefit both patients and the health-care system, overall.
“It lessens the stress of an already stressful situation for patients,” says Lee. “It also adds flexibility for when we can see patients. For instance, if winter driving conditions are poor, we can arrange virtual care ahead of time. I think the big thing is the ease of access.”
The virtual health sites are typically rooms within local health providers, including hospitals, public health units, and wellness centres. They have virtual health technology (with audio and video connections), child-friendly decorations and pediatric equipment. A local nurse is organized to be on-site to check the patient’s vitals and assist the BC Children’s physician.
“This was a significant undertaking and would not be possible without the strong partnership between Child Health BC, BC Children’s Hospital and Fraser Health,” says Jennifer Scarr, the interim executive director of Child Health BC. “With the opening of these two sites we now have 19 sites across the province where BC’s children and youth can access specialty care closer to home.”
“More doctors could incorporate it in their practice,” says Lee. “Virtual health appointments impact the efficiency of the whole system.”
There are already 140 virtual health appointments now happening with BC Children’s hospital per month, saving those patients from long drives or flights for subspecialty care.