Technological advancements now more than ever represent a significant promise for setting children and families up for success, especially those living in rural and remote communities.
Studies show that early diagnosis of developmental conditions and disabilities, accompanied with timely intervention, can have a profound impact on a child’s life.
“In our first few years of life, we develop the basis for future learning, behaviour, function and health,” says Darrell Roze, Executive Director of the Child Development Centre (CDC). “Our developmental experiences during these years set the stage for everything that comes after. We have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact a child’s development in their first few years of life.”
But for many children, accessibility to these supports is an ongoing challenge.
Rural communities surrounding Prince George, including Mackenzie, have long lacked access to high-speed internet. Due to the nature of being a rural and remote community, access to limited and specialized care services has often required a commute to Prince George or Vancouver.
Virtual healthcare can meet families where and when they need it most. It enables workers to meet and speak with families at a distance – down the street or across the country.
And for the province’s tiniest citizens, access to virtual care couldn’t come soon enough.
“The timeliness of our support is critical,” says Roze. “It is so much more effective to address developmental issues before a child enters kindergarten, rather than trying to address it afterward.”
Connecting communities with care
According to the CRTC, 87 per cent of all Canadian households have reliable broadband internet, but that number falls to 46 per cent in rural areas.
To address this gap, TELUS continues to work with local, provincial and federal governments to expand its world-leading network. TELUS has partnered with government funding bodies to bridge the digital divide and connect every underserved community in B.C. to high-speed internet by 2027 – a target committed to by the Government of B.C.
There is a vital, albeit temporary, step in the right direction to close the connectivity gap between rural and urban British Columbians through TELUS’ Smart Hub technology. Smart Hubs are portable devices that use the TELUS LTE and 5G network to provide fixed high-speed internet access to users. Recognizing the value connectivity would have on supporting child development professionals, TELUS donated Smart Hub technology to the CDC in Prince George.
For the CDC, the use of Smart Hubs has helped increase access to virtual health and developmental supports in Mackenzie, McBride, and Valemount.
The technology enables CDC staff to connect speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other critical healthcare providers from Prince George and Vancouver to families in the rural communities it serves.
Specialized care outcomes
For CDC staff members, reliable connectivity enabled through the Smart Hub technology is making a positive impact.
The CDC’s therapists travel to outlying communities several times a year. The more time on the road, the fewer clients they can help. The burden doesn’t end when they get back from their trips, since they have to spend time documenting treatments on children’s charts, delaying the opportunity to serve more children. With Smart Hubs, some of this administrative work can be completed in real time during visits.
The CDC’s therapists can use the technology to connect families with specialized clinics from BC Children’s Hospital, such as their positioning and mobility team, (for complex wheelchairs and seating) their assistive tech team, (for adapted devices and communication devices) and other virtual programming.
Ultimately, it means better care for the clients they serve.
“The most rewarding thing is just working with the kids and the families and helping them to achieve the best possible outcome,” says Pat Hamilton, the CDC’s senior occupational therapist.
Access to virtual care is more than a convenience, it’s much-needed peace of mind. Traveling, in particular, can be taxing on everyone. Parents are forced to take extended time off work for the long journey. Kids who need specialized care can’t always travel comfortably for hours at a time. As a result, it’s not uncommon for these trips to be stretched over multiple days.
Whether it’s Smart Hubs and eventually, an expanded permanent network, connectivity makes accessing telehealth easier for everyone. With the former, healthcare professionals plug the device into a power socket, place it next to a window, select the wi-fi name and enter the password. These simple steps connect children and their families to the TELUS wireless network.
“TELUS Smart Hubs have provided us with an amazing opportunity to increase access to our supports in a way that would not have been possible in the not-too-distant past,” says Roze. “It’s been a game changer for us.”