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EDITORIAL: Hospital pilot proves successful

Nurses use a TV cart with a doctor on a secure video conference link during a pilot project of "tele-rounding" in Alberton, P.E.I., in this undated handout photo. A rural hospital in western P.E.I. is using an innovative, first-in-Canada, approach to delivering care to patients that could offer a solution to doctor shortages at hospitals across the country. Anyone who has spent time in hospital will know that doctors visit their patients as they do their daily rounds -- but what if a nurse rolled in a TV cart and the doctor was on a video screen from an office elsewhere in the province or the country? Western Hospital in Alberton is in the middle of a six month pilot project of "tele-rounding" -- using a secure video conference link to allow doctors to check on patients, review their files, order any testing that may be needed and even use a digital stethoscope. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Nurses use a TV cart with a doctor on a secure video conference link during a pilot project of tele-rounding medicine at the Western Hospital in Alberton. File Photo

There are nine physicians participating in the tele-rounding pilot, including three from P.E.I. and others from Nova Scotia and Ontario who are licensed to work on the Island.

An innovative pilot project at Western Hospital in Alberton is plugging a chronic gap in P.E.I.’s health care system. It’s a response to mounting challenges in getting a family doctor for every Islander. Call it what you will – computer medicine, tele-rounding or virtual reality doctors – as long as it helps patients receive prompt care, it’s worth a try.

There are nine physicians participating in the tele-rounding pilot, including three from P.E.I. and others from Nova Scotia and Ontario who are licensed to work on the Island. They are now able to remotely deliver care for in-patients. Doctors take turns doing virtual rounds and seeing patients who don’t have a family physician. Doctors see the patient on a television screen and a nurse is present to assist.

The project, the first in Canada, and in place since August, is getting lots of attention. There has been local and national media coverage over the past several months, and this week, the president of the Canadian Medical Association is visiting the Island for a first-hand look at Western’s tele-rounding project. She’s impressed.

Dr. Gigi Osler is convinced the pilot offers a solution to address doctor shortages across Canada. She’s here to ask questions, find out what kinds of challenges Western has faced and then spread the good word; and hopefully see the idea expand.

She admits this pilot demonstrates that health care is struggling to catch up to new technology. Most medical staff in Canada still use pagers and faxes while tele-rounding brings doctors in Halifax or Toronto right into an examining room in Alberton. The pilot also offers opportunities for patients to see a specialist in their local hospital without having to travel to Charlottetown, Halifax or Toronto. It saves time, money and perhaps, even a life.

Tele-medicine is knocking down provincial barriers which impede efficient medical care. A medical licence in one province does not transfer to another and each province and territory has its own regulatory college and standards to license doctors. The CMA needs uniform regulations; the tele-rounding pilot shows the need to cut red tape.

It’s encouraging that P.E.I. health care officials are embarking on this exciting pilot and thinking outside the box. Tele-rounding is a great idea but the first option should always be for an Islander to see her or his family doctor in person. These modern innovations do not replace physicians, but are an added resource to support our health professionals and their patients. The province must always try and maintain a full complement of practicing physicians in West Prince.

The idea for the tele-rounding option came from a chance interview that the Western Hospital administrator heard on radio. He was desperate to solve chronic doctor shortage issues in West Prince, and to their credit, provincial officials and medical society both signed on.

And it’s working. Staff and patients have embraced the technology, and the surrounding community has accessible physician care. Everyone wins. Western Hospital is showing the way for the province and the country. Well done.

RELATED: Alberton’s Western Hospital piloting tele-rounding

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