Canada’s northern landscapes are vast. Sometimes the only way in is by plane or ice road. Small pockets of people are separated from larger centres and from each other by hundreds of kilometres. Healthcare delivery to residents in these isolated areas comes with its own unique challenges.
Canada’s Northwest Territories, an area twice the size of France, has 42,000 people across 33 communities. “All the residents in these territories deserve the same level of care but given some of the distances and location, it can prove to be quite difficult,” says Glen Abernethy, Minister of Health and Social Services, Northwest Territories.
In the health centres of these isolated communities, it is standard practice to complete patient charting on paper. With hundreds of patients interacting with different health providers, keeping track of patient treatments and tests can be daunting – and care continuity, difficult. During in-office appointments, physicians must use valuable time to gather and review a patient’s history before considering treatment.
Without accurate and timely medical information at-hand, they often lack the tools required to make informed decisions for patient care. Fortunately, health centres in the Northwest Territories and other remote areas of Canada have begun a technological journey that will help provide a higher level of care to their residents.
Health centres in isolated communities are moving towards the digital age
The tiny community of Fort Resolution in the Northwest Territories located just south of Great Slave Lake has the distinction of having the first fully digital remote health centre in the country. Thanks to an initiative between the Health and Social Services department of the Government of the Northwest Territories and TELUS Health, an EMR was installed in Fort Resolution’s nursing station in 2015.
More than 7,200 kilometres away from Fort Resolution, on Manitoulin Island and along the north shore of Lake Huron in northeastern Ontario, 14 First Nations communities faced similar challenges in healthcare delivery.
The area’s 27,000 residents are served by small, overworked healthcare teams with rotating practitioners. Working from paper files made it difficult to consolidate patient charts. Without a complete picture of a patient’s medical profile, transient care teams were challenged to provide the best recommendations for treatment.
“It all effectively comes down to life or death,” says Derek Debassige, Clinic Director – Manitoulin Physio Centre M’Chigeeng. “The more we understand from start to finish, the more we can utilize our resources in an efficient and accountable way.”
In 2016, the Giiwednong Health Link partnered with TELUS Health to bring digital technology to the First Nations communities of Manitoulin Island and Lake Huron’s north shore. The Wikwemikong Health Centre was the first to be equipped with a PS Suite EMR, a powerful and intuitive clinical management system that captures, organizes and displays patient data in a user-friendly way. By the end of 2017, PS Suite was installed in all 14 First Nations communities.
Building a system of “one person, one record” in Canada’s north
In Canada’s remote communities, the power of technology is transforming healthcare to create an effective, equitable system and a brighter, healthier future for those who call it home.
The digital movement towards “one person, one record” enables healthcare professionals to view current and accurate patient information in a single pane with a patient’s latest lab reports, X-rays and prescriptions all just a click away. Meanwhile, health centres also have the ability to communicate with providers in a patient’s circle of care, making care continuity easier.
With meaningful and timely medical data readily available, physicians can focus on quality patient interactions and make decisions that lead to better health outcomes for their patients.