People living with kidney disease on Haida Gwaii will get early and more inclusive health advice once a new tele-health project arrives on island.
Starting next month in Terrace and nearby mainland towns, patients will be able to book two-hour video meetings with a kidney care team in Prince George.
The team includes a dietician, pharmacist, social worker, nurse, clerk and a specialist doctor.
“We’re just starting out,” says Dr. Anurag Singh, a kidney specialist at the Prince George hospital and director of kidney care for Northern Health.
“This is like the gold-standard kidney care that you would get in Vancouver or Toronto or other major centres,” said Dr. Singh, noting that Vancouver is the only B.C. city that has tried the team approach so far.
Dr. Singh has heard many patients say it’s just too far or costly to go to Prince George for appointments, especially when a kidney problem is in early stages.
That’s a real setback, said Dr. Singh, because when people get early control over kidney disease, they can often save their kidneys, avoid dialysis, and significantly lower their risk of heart attack or stroke.
Many of the things kidney patients need at first are simple — better diet, more exercise, less smoking, drinking, or drugs — but that means changing habits.
“These are the things people struggle with the most,” said Dr. Singh.
But by speaking with a range of advisers, patients not only get details on how each step helps, they also get a look at the big picture — the lifestyle changes that slow or stop kidney disease also tend to boost a person’s overall wellbeing.
And for kidney patients who do need dialysis, Dr. Sing said meeting the team early by videoconference can boost their eligibility for a transplant or dialysis at home.
Six or eight months after patients start booking video meetings in Terrace, which has a dialysis unit, the pilot project will expand to include Fort St. John for another year.
By the end of 2017, Dr. Singh hopes to see the program offered across northern B.C., including at the hospitals of north and south Haida Gwaii.
Video meetings can’t replace a face-to-face encounter, said Dr. Singh, but the team may be able to arrange annual sessions at ‘hub’ sites like Terrace and Fort St. John to meet more patients in person.
“We’re very excited about it,” he said. “At the same time, we want to see what works for each community.”