Cree health services make ‘major’ leap with new technology

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The new healthcare services available to Cree patients through high-speed internet is not only saving the system money but bringing in essential specialist services that were rarely available in remote northern communities.

According to Chisasibi Hospital director Philippe Lubino, who is also the interim Chair of the National Telehealth Best Practices Special Interest Group of Canada’s Health Informatics Association, access to specialists who can see a patient virtually through telehealth has made a world of difference for Cree patients.

Using the example of TeleObsterics, Lubino said Chisasibi patients are now able to receive prenatal screenings in Cree territory via videoconference with an obstetrician in Val-d’Or while a medical imaging technician performs an ultrasound at the local hospital.

“During this consultation, under the direct supervision of the obstetrician, a medical imaging technician performs an ultrasound, directly interpreted by the obstetrician who receives live the images of the ultrasound,” said Lubino. “At the moment, women with high-risk pregnancy from all coastal communities have access to the service.”

Inland Cree will soon have the same access once the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) purchases an ultrasound machine for Mistissini and hires technicians to operate it.

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According to Lubino, having this service in Chisasibi has changed the lives of coastal women. This way they don’t have to miss work or find a babysitter. The whole family benefits because mom is not gone for long and gets support from her partner and other family nearby.

“Women with high-risk pregnancy from all the coastal communities benefit from the service in Chisasibi instead of going to Val-d’Or. For women from Whapmagoostui, Eastmain, Wemindji and Waskaganish, even though it is not their home community, they have the comfort of remaining on the territory,” said Lubino.

The Tele-Health program has been able to save around $85,000 in the last two years alone, according to data provided by the CBHSSJB.

Services in the telehealth program include wheelchair adaptation, internal medicine, dermatology, wound care, psychiatry, child psychiatry, cardiology, speech therapy, pneumonology and oncology. Lubino said that there are even scenarios that are not available to patients down south.

“I remember a child who needed to be assessed by a child psychiatrist. Not only the parents, but also the child’s teacher, were able to attend the consultation with him,” he explained. “This is something that would rarely happen down south and that would have been unimaginable without telehealth: imagine flying the child, his parents and his teacher to Montreal for a few days. This experience sums up for me a lot of the power, impact and opportunity that telehealth represents for our population.”

Before telehealth, Lubino added, patients with mental health issues would only see psychiatrists during their two to four visits to each community. Or the patient would have to be flown to Montreal.

“This is major,” said Lubino. “Our patients can have a better continuum of care which amounts to a better quality of care. As for all telehealth services, we can also keep the patient in his or her community, which is also a relief for the whole family that can continue to surround the patient instead of having to designate an escort who would have the sole responsibility for the care of the client during the trip to Montreal.”


The health board also provides remote pre-assessment, which can avoid unnecessary transfer to Montreal in acute cases.

“We are actively looking at new ways to provide care, closer to the patients,” Lubino concluded. “Initiatives in remote patient monitoring especially for chronic diseases are very interesting for our population. The use of new phone-based applications have a lot of potential for our patients, allowing them to be more involved in monitoring themselves and allowing them to take more control of their own health.”

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