Telemedicine is Improving the Lives of Chronic Kidney Disease Patients

The Burdens of Chronic Disease

There are many types of chronic diseases, affecting patients in all kinds of ways. However chronic conditions share one thing in common- they all pose burdens for patients that surpass the burdens associated with acute illnesses. These include the high cost of treatment, necessity to travel for treatment (a burden of cost and time), co-morbidities, and many others.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one of the conditions associated with many of these burdens. It is estimated that for one CKD patient, dialysis treatment alone will cost 50,000 dollars each year.

Mr. Hadcock is an 80-year-old man living with CKD in Ontario. He explains that in addition to CKD he suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol in addition to mental and physical fatigue. His 79-year-old wife also has severe degenerative arthritis. The couple lives off pension and they explain that the costs associated with their treatment can be an extreme burden for them. Mr. Hadcock has recently begun using telemedicine technology. He believes it will make his treatment easier, cheaper, and also safer.

The network he uses is the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), created by the Peninsula Family Health Team. This network allows CKD patients to consult with the nephrology group at the London Health Sciences Centre. Traveling to this center would cost Ontario patients 500 dollars in gas alone.

Telemedicine in Ontario

Telemedicine, in essence, is the use of technology to allow patients to receive care which would normally be given in a hospital, from home. It may include videoconferencing, image transmission, remote monitoring, and remote health advice.

“People have the right to have their healthcare needs addressed without limitations or barriers to access.” – OTN

Telehealth Ontario is another program similar to OTN that allows patients to talk to a Registered Nurse over the phone. They are able to provide patients general advice without making them leave their home.

Telemedicine is especially valuable in Ontario because it is a rural area with a very small population filled with older retirees. This means a high number of chronic conditions and a lot of strain concerning access to care. Fortunately, over 200,000 patients have benefited from OTN in the last year alone. Telemedicine is utilized by all public hospitals, 39 community health centers, as well as 74 family health teams in the area. They are continuously working to advance the system and make it cheaper, easier to use, and more accessible for patients.

Barriers to Telemedicine

One of the biggest barriers to the implementation of telemedicine is simply the process of transitioning to it. It can require drastic changes to practices that have not been altered in years or even decades. To help combat this, 191 nurses have been hired throughout Ontario, specifically to aid in this transition. All of these individuals have gone through OTN’s telemedicine training.

The hope is that as telemedicine grows, its implementation will become easier because organizations will be able to simply replicate successful programs like OTN.

That said, telemedicine will never replace in-person care, and such care will always be essential in medicine. However, there are exquisite benefits to the practice, specifically for chronic disease patients, that should be considered.

You can read more about OTN and telemedicine in Ontario here.

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