Dr. Greg DePape demonstrates the setup in the telehealth room at West Coast General Hospital, where he is able to confer remotely with patients via computer monitor. The system can also monitor a patient’s vital signs remotely. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

PROGRESS 2018: Telehealth opens up health care in remote areas

Bamfield patients benefit when doctors can’t reach them in rough weather

Technology is bringing health care to remote areas of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District in ever-expanding ways. For the first time last year, West Coast General Hospital was able to aid a patient in Bamfield to attend a doctor’s appointment in Port Alberni—via live computer streaming.

“Telehealth has been operating in Bamfield since the fall of 2016, but this (was) the first time we’ve used it for a regular doctor’s appointment,” said Pam Rardon, West Coast General Hospital’s site director.

“Our physicians and patients are excited about this option for those times when an in-person appointment isn’t workable.”

Doctors Greg DePape and Hermann Nell have been serving Bamfield with regular in-person clinics for more than a decade. The doctors, both pilots, are partners in a float plane, so they prefer flying to Bamfield. However, summer is often foggy and winter is stormy, so flying isn’t always optimal, says Dr. DePape.

“The logging road is an active logging road and long. It’s very busy and at times it’s rough. It beats the crap out of your car,” he says. “I’ve had several flat tires; once I had to hitchhike because the tire wouldn’t come off.”

The road is also a four-hour round trip, plus clinic time, whereas flying takes 20 minutes. Telehealth appointments offer both physician and patient the best option.

“It’s more about them than me,” says DePape. “People in remote communities maybe let their health go longer because it’s harder for them to see a doctor. Some illnesses progress more than if they had easier access.”

Both the clinic in Bamfield and a room at WCGH are equipped with computer equipment and a chair for patients. Bamfield’s room is larger, to accommodate more people. Patients sit in a comfortable chair in front of a large computer screen and video camera where they can interact with the doctor via video chat.

“We look at each other on the screen and talk to each other on the screen,” he explains. “The amazing thing about the technology now is my equipment—if I want to look in someone’s ears or throat, it’s electronically connected to the screen, so I get a video of it. The nurse can do the exam through a camera. For listening to the lungs, there’s audio as well.

“So if (an appointment) requires any sort of physical examination, the nurse can do it and I can talk to them while they do it and actually see a live video feed of what they’re doing. The technology is excellent.”

“It means so much to Bamfield residents,” Rardon adds. “It’s so much a one-nurse station out there. (She) works regular office hours but then she’s on call 24/7. The nurses that cover out there are very excited about patients being able to access a primary care physician, just for their ongoing medical care.”

DePape, who has a family practice in Port Alberni and also works in the emergency department at WCGH, hopes telehealth will become more popular. “I would be willing, if they expand to other isolated communities, to get involved, both in flying to the community if needed and doing the telehealth when we couldn’t fly.

“I grew up in Ucluelet, so I’m a rural kind of guy.”

Telehealth has been around for some time, generally with specialty services such as tele-cardiology. Rardon is hoping the technology will help WCGH expand its services even further.

Earlier this spring, the first telehealth class for diabetic education was held using the telehealth room at the Bamfield clinnic, Rardon said. Diabetic educators in Port Alberni presented a class to clients in Bamfield. “They had a full class of five individuals. It’s great because it’s live and they can ask questions; it’s interactive and important for them.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to do many more of these.”



The telehealth room at the clinic in Bamfield is set up for a consultation, with a desk for the nurse, seat for the patient in front of the web cam and room for family members or other people for information seminars. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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