How a digital health revolution is keeping families together
Christine McNaughton knows there are more convenient places to live than Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. Nestled in Lake Huron, the island is about 600 kilometres north of Toronto. The closest urban centres -- with Starbucks, late-night grocery stores and medical specialists at the ready -- are hours away.
Yet from the moment she arrived on the island more than a decade ago, McNaughton knew she was home.
“I drove up to the Island with my parents and the full moon reflecting on the water and the sense of ‘Ahhhh!’ as soon as we crossed the bridge in Little Current made me certain that this was the place I was going to live,” she says in her popular lifestyle blog, Life on Manitoulin. Her warm stories and photos of rural life with her husband, daughter, mother, father and mother-in-law have earned her tens of thousands of devoted fans across social media.
Lately, though, McNaughton’s idyllic Manitoulin world has been under strain.
Her father, known to her online followers as “Grampy”, has suffered a stroke and two heart attacks, while her mother, “Lola” (meaning “grandmother” in Tagalog), has developed diabetes, high-blood pressure and Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that has left her partially deaf.
With the nearest hospitals and specialists in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, a two and four-hour drive away respectively, it’s been no small feat to keep the family together on the island without sacrificing anyone’s health. So concerning was the situation, McNaughton reluctantly began to consider whether it was time for Lola and Grampy to move to a more urban setting.
“We do have hospitals and excellent physicians on Manitoulin, but I worried about specialist healthcare and how we would manage being this far away,” she says.
Fortunately for the family, major advancements in digital healthcare in Canada have made it possible to put those big decisions on hold. Remote monitoring technology, in particular, means people like Lola and Grampy who are living with chronic conditions don’t necessarily have to travel to receive specialist care.
Remote monitoring technology allows healthcare teams to safely and effectively monitor their patients’ daily vitals from any distance. The information is shared electronically with the care team members, wherever they may be located. If the patient’s heart rate or blood pressure move out of a healthy range, doctors can adjust treatments as necessary, as well as provide support and health guidance for the patient throughout the monitoring program.
The technology is not just embraced by doctors. With enrollment increasing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year, Canadian patients, too, are proving keen to reap the benefits of remote monitoring, which include far fewer hospital admissions and visits to emergency months after the monitoring period has ended, according to a new program evaluation.
Last fall, Lola was introduced to TELUS’ Home Health Monitoring technology. In her case, she attaches two small electrodes to her chest to monitor her heart rate and blood pressure. The data is then transmitted via a smartphone to specialists in Sudbury.
Though the process may sound quite technical, McNaughton says the digital equipment was easy to use -- even for her mother who, initially, was not comfortable with computers or other modern devices.
That’s all changed now.
“She thinks it’s the coolest invention since sliced bread,” says McNaughton.
Doctors on Manitoulin are among those who now use electronic medical records (EMRs) from TELUS Health to access patient information from a laptop, tablet or smartphone, and easily connect and collaborate with other physicians. Care teams use EMRs to capture and track critical patient information like diseases, symptoms, medication, allergies, vital signs, and medical and family history. Better collaboration between doctors and consulting medical teams means that they can share things like electronic communications, referrals and patient data. It also means significantly fewer trips off the island for Lola and Grampy to visit specialists in person.
TELUS has invested $2 billion since 2008 into technologies that are revolutionizing healthcare in Canada by virtually connecting patients to the doctors, specialists, pharmacists and other front-line specialists they need. Across the healthcare industry, more than three quarters of all Canadian doctors are now using EMRs, resulting in nearly 40 per cent fewer patient in-person referrals between doctors and specialists.
Both McNaughton’s parents continue to make the trek to see a specialist once or twice a year. The rest of the time they are at home, where they garden, go fishing and spend as much time as possible with their beloved nine-year-old granddaughter.
For McNaughton, knowing that her parents can digitally connect with specialist caregivers whenever necessary gives her peace of mind that they don’t have to choose between Grampy and Lola’s health and keeping the family together.
“Right now we are all really happy here on the island,” she says.