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Northern Health Position Statement on the Effective Use of Telehealth Technology to Support Quality Primary and Secondary Care

Private telehealth companies are offering telehealth primary care services to many of our health authority’s rural communities and in some instances, communities are entering into contracts with these private companies.

These services contemplate some ‘in community’ family practice visits with the preponderance of primary care delivered remotely via telemedicine. The interface between the telehealth physicians and local physicians has been poor. For example, patients are advised to report to the closest ER when a telehealth enabled visit reveals a concern requiring further investigation: Patients arrive in the ER without documentation or communication from the referring physician.

Used as part of an overall rural health delivery strategy that integrates with local medical services, telehealth is an important tool to help us deliver high quality primary care to the people we serve. In order to provide clarity regarding the effective use of telehealth technology in our health authority, Northern Health, in consultation with the Northern Health Medical Advisory Committee, has developed a set of principles to assist physicians and communities to understand how telehealth can augment resident primary care and specialist services.

We have arrived at the following principles to guide the effective use of telehealth for Northern Health communities.

NH Telehealth services must:

  • Be led by the Health Authority and be embedded in a comprehensive rural health service delivery strategy
  • Be fully integrated with the healthcare delivery system locally, regionally and provincially so as to increase access, quality and cost effectiveness of care without introducing disharmony to the health system (e.g. recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals, health service delivery mechanisms in the communities).
  • Support 'on the ground' services to strengthen in-person relationships between patients and providers
  • Employ meticulous documentation of care
  • Function as a complimentary tool to support face to face visits by both primary and specialist health care providers
  • Support "Shared Care" between all healthcare providers and the patient (e.g. NP, RN, CHR, Physicians)
  • Respond to the unique health care needs of the community
  • Maintain a high level of quality of care provided to patients
  • Be culturally safe and non-threatening to patients
  • Observe strict security and privacy protocols
  • Focus on best healthcare provider practices and encourage education and professional development of telehealth services
  • Interface with local/regional EMRs or otherwise facilitate the effective communication of complete documentation of all patient/provider interactions.
  • Allow evaluation and monitoring of clinical service indicators for quality and improvement purposes
  • Conform to policies supporting partnerships between providers and administration to maintain high clinical standards of care and optimize service delivery

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the effective use of telehealth technology in your community, please call or email the Medical Director responsible for your Health Service Delivery area.