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GUEST OPINION: KCMH can do better with a teleclinic

Kings County Memorial Hospital
Kings County Memorial Hospital - SaltWire File Photo

On Friday, Feb. 21 and again on Sunday, Feb. 23, we observed a valuable health-care resource being squandered at the Kings County Memorial Hospital. The lights were on but there were no doctors home … so the emergency department was closed… again! 

All the other ER staff and associated support were still paid to be there. Yes, the three RNs, laboratory, X-ray and housekeeping staff were at their posts ready to serve. But the patients were not allowed in. 

If KCMH offered a teleclinic, as originally proposed about half a decade ago, about 70 per cent of the typical daily patients (based on extensive telemedicine industry experience) could have been immediately attended to and sent on their way. The remaining 30 per cent having been “seen” through an Internet consultation, would have been sent immediately to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown or given a scheduled appointment to visit a local doctor in their office at a later date. Quick refresher: a teleclinic is a small room outfitted with a telecart that includes a screen, video camera and peripherals. Patients talk with doctors via the Internet.  

Most important is the fact that with a teleclinic, Kings County Memorial Hospital’s emergency department could have remained open.

The cost of a specialized telecart is under $30,000. Kings County service clubs have expressed an interest to pay for it. These relatively inexpensive medical devices with built-in otoscope, stethoscope and a digital dermal camera permit distant physicians, assisted by nurses next to the patient, to do limited examinations. The doctor can be anywhere. Imagine a physician who is forced to stay home with a sick child could still be able do a lot of their work remotely. A few years ago, the KCMH emergency doctor couldn’t get to work because of a bad snowstorm. Had a KCMH teleclinic been operational this same doctor could have done his shift from home “seeing” patients at the hospital. 

Offering a telemedicine work option could attract doctors to offer their services to Kings County.  

Interesting fact: There is a Kings County doctor currently providing this type of medical resource to other areas of Canada. Why not have similar services provided here? 
One group of doctors could provide telemedicine services to hospitals right across our province and even the entire region. Currently in the news is the story of the uproar in New Brunswick about the proposed closure of six Emergency Departments due to a doctor shortage. Had each of these hospitals had a teleclinic all the Emergency Departments could have stayed open with remote physician services. It’s not ideal but it is better than nothing.

We in Kings County can do better! This is 2020. The Department of Health should clearly see by now how working with a teleclinic could make better use of scarce physician resources. The KCMH emergency department should not close if a doctor cannot be physically in the building.

Ray Brow is a resident of Georgetown Royalty and a proponent of telehealth.

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