“No longer are we forgotten, we share now the same opportunities as our counterparts in the larger cities.” It is this one patient’s perspective that highlights the success of the First Nations Telehealth Expansion Project (FNTEP).
Launched in 2013, this initiative engaged over 200 indigenous communities across British Columbia. The project’s goal was to close the gaps in accessing integrated health and wellness services by delivering these services closer to home through the use of virtual care technologies. Since the project began, 180 providers have been engaged to provide telehealth services to over 15,000 BC First Nations citizens. This successful implementation of telehealth technology took centre stage at this year’s eHealth Conference as the project team was honoured for their achievements.
Not only was the project recognized with the award for Excellence in Canadian Telehealth, but also, Eyrin Tedesco, Director, Clinical eHealth Initiatives for the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), was selected to deliver the Dr. Mo Watanabe Honorary Lecture. Tedesco stressed that it was the novel approach of focusing on primary care that was key to providing services with impact to these communities. This approach allowed for clinicians to connect as part of integrated care teams and provide timely services to their patients regardless of their location. “By providing a video conferencing unit or software platform in their home offices, [primary care practitioners] no longer have that reliance on having to go to an acute care setting to gain access,” remarked Tedesco. “If you want there to be uptake, if you want it to be meaningful, if you want it to be efficient and effective, you have to bring it to them.”
Megan Hunt, former Director of eHealth and Regional Director for the Northern Region at FNHA, emphasized the project’s achievements in providing a breadth of varying types of services. “Many telehealth projects are focused on one clinical area,” noted Hunt. “This project highlighted the ability to be very creative and connect multitudes of clinical and allied health care services with one project and really create the multi-disciplinary approach that would meet the First Nations’ unique health care needs.” Some of the unique services the program has supported include occupational therapy, dietitian services, tele-methadone clinics and holding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings over tele-conference.
The telehealth equipment has been used to connect large numbers of participants from multiple sites simultaneously for health purposes such as diabetes education, and for non-health purposes such as elders circle, course offerings, and business meetings. “It’s really been limitless in what it’s been used for in these communities,” asserted Tedesco. “I’ve always said, when we go to a community and do a deployment that it’s their equipment to use and to use it as they feel it will benefit them most.”
To learn more about this project and its ongoing expansion efforts, please visit the FNHA site.