Every couple of months, Amanda Sidhu would have to make a stressful journey with her 11-year-old daughter all the way from Mission to Vancouver’s B.C. Children’s Hospital.
But with the recent opening of two new virtual care sites in the Fraser Health region, those sometimes two-hour drives won’t be as frequent.
“You’re looking at five hours to go [to Vancouver] for a 15 minute appointment,” Sidhu said. “So to be able to drive to Abbotsford in 10 minutes and see [our doctor] on a screen is amazing.”
Virtual care sites are a provincial initiative that allow pediatric patients to do virtual consultation with doctors at BC Children’s Hospital through video conferencing.
Sick children living in the Fraser Valley can now make appointments at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Chilliwack General Hospital with health specialists in over 40 fields.
These two new locations are the 18th and 19th sites opened across the province in a four year effort by respective provincial health authorities, Child Health BC and BC Children’s Hospital. The Fraser Health region is home to 42 per cent of all children in the province.
Sidhu’s daughter, Kaitlyn, has semi-lobar holoprosencephaly, a rare condition where the left side of the brain is fused with the right. The condition leads to other medical complications: Kaitlyn is in remission from cancer, relies on a wheelchair, has fragile bones, suffers seizures and requires a feeding tube.
The long drive to Vancouver, mostly for simple follow-up appointments, was stressful for both Kaitlyn and Sidhu.
Kaityln associates the BC Children’s hospital with the many surgeries she has endured in her lifetime. For Amanda, the trip means taking the entire day off work and getting a nurse to accompany them to Vancouver.
“It’s hard to get her to remember the fun and good things. She loves to see her doctors and nurses there, but at the same time, that association is instant right?” Sidhu said. “Like, what are you guys going to do to me this time?”
Kaitlyn had her second virtual appointment yesterday at the Abbotsford hospital for an IV treatment and consultation with her neurologist, Dr. James Lee.
Lee said he has been increasingly using virtual appointments for a substantial number of his patients who live outside of Vancouver. He called the program “fantastic.”
“We’re able to provide the same access of care, same quality of care regardless of geography, because we don’t want that to be a barrier,” he said. “We recognize it’s a major burden, travel requires pulling kids put of school, it’s taking time off work, it’s a lot of stress to our patients that are more medically complex.”
Doctors are able to share lab results, x-rays and other images through the screens. The on-site nurse allow the doctor to have hands in the room for physical examinations.
The high-definition screen and audio, as well as the interactive nature of of the experience simulates the real life patient-doctor relationship according to Janet Murphy, director of clinical operations for maternal infant child and youth care in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
“I do see this as the wave of the future, particularly in pediatric care,” she said. “Fraser Health is all about supporting technology, innovation and helping improve our patient experience through that.”