Adopting and Implementing Telehealth in Canada
Penny A. Jennett (University of Calgary, Canada), Eldon R. Smith (University of Calgary, Canada), Mamoru Watanabe (University of Calgary, Canada) and Sharlene Stayberg (Alberta Health and Wellness, Canada)
Copyright: © 2009
Canada spans 9,976,140 square kilometers and has an approximate population of 32 million people (Statistics Canada, 2001). More than 90% of Canada’s geography is considered rural or remote (Government of Canada, 2001). Despite the highly dispersed population, and, indeed, because of it, Canada is committed to the idea that a networked telehealth system could provide better access and equity of care to Canadians. Growing evidence of the feasibility and affordability of telehealth applications substantiates Canada’s responsibility to promote and to develop telehealth. Telehealth is the use of advanced telecommunication technologies to exchange health information and provide healthcare services across geographic, time, social, and cultural barriers (Reid, 1996). According to a systematic review of telehealth projects in different countries (Jennett et al., 2003a, 2003b), specific telehealth applications have shown significant socioeconomic benefits to patients and families, healthcare providers, and the healthcare system. Implementing telehealth can impact the delivery of health services by increasing access, improving quality of care, and enhancing social support (Bashshur, Reardon, & Shannon, 2001; Jennett et al., 2003a). It also has the potential to impact skills training of the health workforce by increasing educational opportunities (Jennett et al., 2003a; Watanabe, Jennett, & Watson, 1999). Therefore, telehealth has a strong potential to influence improved health outcomes in the population (Jennett et al., 2003a, 2003b). Fourteen health jurisdictions—one federal, 10 provincial, and three territorial—are responsible for the policies and infrastructure associated with healthcare delivery in Canada. This article presents a telehealth case study in one of Canada’s health jurisdictions—the province of Alberta. The rollout of telehealth in Alberta serves as an example of best practice. Significant milestones and lessons learned are presented. Progress toward the integration of the telehealth network into a wider province-wide health information network also is highlighted.