Televisitation enables face-to-face visits

Televisitation enables face-to-face visits - PHOTO BY: Photograph courtesy of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Televisitation Program helps patients keep in touch with family members in remote communities across the northwest.

Connecting patients and family members is one of the major goals of the Televisitation Program at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

The program was launched about 10 years ago for patients in Renal Services, but has recently been expanded to accommodate patients in other areas, including the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Televisitation allows patients and family members to communicate face-to-face through a real-time, secure video connection.

“We’ve developed an internal program that anyone can initiate,” said Anne Cryderman, one of the hospital’s telemedicine co-ordinators. “It brings families to the bedside from birth to death.”

The service is also useful for families when critically ill or premature newborn babies are transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in London, Ontario.

The free service provides a sense of connectedness and helps to reduce the loneliness patients and family members may feel when they are separated due to hospitalization. Cryderman said she has noticed patients’ health and emotional outlook improve once they are able to connect with loved ones through televisitation.

“Loneliness is nothing but a barrier to a patient’s maximum health,” said Cryderman, a registered nurse. “People can die of broken hearts.”

Both inpatients as well as outpatients in Thunder Bay for a course of treatment are able to use televisitation. Visits can be arranged at the patient’s bedside or from studios with large screens to accommodate more people.

The service is mainly used to connect patients with families and friends in remote communities. Having to relocate to Thunder Bay for medical treatment can make patients feel depressed, lonely and isolated from their loved ones, and televisitation helps to close the gap.

Northwestern Ontario is an ideal location for telemedicine services due to its vastness, extreme climate, and large number of small, isolated communities, said Cryderman.

“People in northwestern Ontario now expect to have these services by video,” she said. “It takes away the things that are not in the patient’s best interest, such as travelling, which is a risk, especially in winter.”

While many patients and families can benefit from televisitation and telemedicine, videoconferencing may not be appropriate in every situation, according to Cryderman.

“Sometimes there needs to be hands on,” she said.

The program is also useful during pandemics such as the H1N1 flu pandemic when visitors were restricted from entering the hospital.

The televisitation program was recognized as a “leading practice” during the hospital’s accreditation review last May. Accreditation Canada surveyors select leading practices in areas of service delivery or leadership, which are recognized as “gold standards” and are determined to be worthy of being models for other institutions.

The televisitation service is advertised on posters displayed in patient lounges and other areas throughout the hospital, as well as in public buildings in remote communities.

Thunder Bay Regional’s Telemedicine Department has 23 videoconferencing stations throughout the hospital and two off-site studios. The department can connect to locations throughout Ontario, including 45 communities across the northwest through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) and the Kuhkenah Network (K-Net), a partner network serving First Nations communities.

Televisitation connections are also possible outside of the province, but may have costs and additional technical requirements. Skype and other Internet-based communications programs are not used for this service because of privacy and security concerns.

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