Kelowna surgeons serve patients virtually

At KGH, surgeons are providing care to the far reaches of the province

Surgeons at Kelowna’s General Hospital are serving more than a million patients through virtual clinics.

The Interior Health Thoracic Surgery Group of doctors Shaun Deen, Michael Humer, Anand Jugnauth and Andrew Luoma represents a team of thoracic surgeons based at KGH. Collectively, they serve a population of more than one million British Columbians dispersed across 807,000 square kilometres in the Interior and North regions of the province.

New UBC research shows telemedicine dramatically improves access to quality medical care in small and rural B.C. communities—while saving time, money and travel risk for patients.

Through the use of a robust, secure Skype-like videoconference technology, Dr. Humer said thoracic surgeons provide patient-centred care to communities in the far reaches of the province.

About 80 per cent of IHTSG patients have cancer, most commonly in the lung or esophagus, according to Dr. Humer, lead author of the study and clinical assistant professor with the Southern Medical Program based at UBC Okanagan.

“In one day, I can see patients in Kamloops, Prince George, Dawson Creek, and Oliver, review their medical images in real time and determine appropriate treatment plans,” said Humer. “It’s often better than seeing the patient ‘in-person’ as I now see them with a family member who might not have been able to travel to Kelowna.”

Between 2003 and 2015, the IHTSG conducted 15,073 telemedicine appointments from 63 different geographic locations. These same patients saved a total travel distance of 11.5 million kilometres, an average of 766 kilometres per patient.

“Our telemedicine program began in 2003 due in large part to the efforts of my late colleague Dr. Bill Nelems,” said Humer. “It has grown from 320 patients in the first full year to more than 1,700 patients annually across the Interior and Northern Health coverage areas.”

Telemedicine now represents 40 per cent of the Kelowna service’s practice, enabling surgeons to seamlessly provide consults and follow-ups with the few clicks of a button. Patients need only come to Kelowna if they require surgery. This greatly reduces the amount of travel time on BC’s mountainous highways, especially treacherous during the long winter months.

The research was recently published in Current Oncology Reports.