A physician in Prince George can now listen to the heartbeat of a patient in Prince Rupert without ever leaving the office.
The Network of Rural to Tertiary Healthcare (NORTH), unveiled at a media event on Friday at the Victoria medical building, allows cardiologists based in Prince George to communicate directly with patients in outlying communities.
"We can do things remotely, either video conferencing or even examination remotely," Northern Health heart function medical lead Dr. Colleen Hennessy said. "If they want to come in, then that's fine but this just gives an avenue for people who would be limited."
Using a remote digital stethoscope a specialist can hear and examine the heartbeat over the Internet, with a diagram of the heart rhythm appearing on the computer. Once the long-distance examination is complete, the program allows the specialist to immediately send a report back to the primary health provider.
The service has been available since last spring, with Prince Rupert, Terrace and Kitimat the first to come on line. Valemount is next on the list and will be followed closely by Quesnel and Fort St. John. Eventually, Hennessy said the goal is to have the services available "in some form or function" in 28 communities around the north.
By being able to access the services remotely, patients avoid the expense of travel and don't have to navigate winter weather to get to a major centre like Prince George. It also benefits medical professionals in even more remote communities by bringing the expertise closer to them
NORTH is a partnership between Northern Health and Cardiac Services BCs Heart Failure Network, with the estimated annual funding of $300,000 coming from the provincial agency.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond spoke at the launch and mentioned how heart care touched her in the past year with the health problems her husband Bill suffered.
"With our recent experience with cardiac care, this is something I know will make a difference," she said.
Bill had open heart surgery in December and Bond joked that Friday's launch event may have bumped one of his follow up appointments.
The heart clinic also uses electronic records, which are in the process of being integrated with other clinics, like those for diabetes, arthritis and kidney issues. Hennessy said patients will benefit by not having to fill out duplicate paper work whenever they go to a new clinic and it will facilitate communication between doctors.
"They'll have several different clinics in the city and they'll have all these different charts, but they never come together," she said. "This a virtual chart so everyone can access it, they can put all their information, it's much more comprehensive. . . Each physician knows what the other physicians are doing in real time."