Expansion of medical telepresence in Saskatchewan's remote First Nations communities

Categories: technology, social, governance

What? In May 2016 the Saskatchewan government announced plans to expand a successful telemedicine pilot project in the province's northern and remote communities, including First Nations communities. In the pilot program, telepresence robots were connected to diagnostic equipment, such as ultrasound, and connected in real-time via the internet to a remote health professional. This reduced the need for expensive ambulance or airlift transport to larger medical centres. Previous testing of the same telepresence robot platforms in an Inuit village in Labrador led to a 60-percent reduction in medical evacuations.

So what? The increased use of telepresence technologies in First Nations communities could be ground-breaking in closing the signficant healthcare gap for Canada's Indigenous populations. More generally, medical telepresence could alter professional roles as local health support workers, primarily nurses, are the "arms and legs" for remotely located doctors, perhaps reducing the frequency of doctor fly-ins to remote communities. As a side benefit, wider use of these internet-based healthcare technologies--including by other provinces--would reinforce initiatives to deliver high-speed internet in remote areas. This might in turn build community capacity through increased online participation.

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