An expansion of service in Humboldt is reducing travel for some rural cancer patients.

For many cancer patients from rural parts of Saskatchewan, travelling into the Saskatoon Cancer Centre can be a hardship.  It can mean finding transportation, a long drive, and at the end of their journey, there’s the issue of finding parking near the centre.

Thanks to a focus on patient care by the Saskatoon Cancer Centre and Humboldt District Hospital, they’ve come up with a way to eliminate some of the trips patients make to Saskatoon, using the secure and private Telehealth network.

Humboldt District Health Complex

Humboldt District Health Complex

For patients who live in Humboldt or the surrounding area, this means they no longer have to travel into Saskatoon for every appointment. When it’s appropriate, they can be seen by their oncologist in their own community hospital through the Telehealth system.

“The teams at both the Saskatoon Cancer Centre and Humboldt District Hospital saw a need for this service, and made it a patient-first priority,” said Carrie Opalko-Windecker, a member of the Telehealth team in Saskatoon Health Region. “The Cancer Centre didn’t want to make people drive into Saskatoon if they didn’t need to. Humboldt had the equipment to accommodate these visits, and have done excellent work in creating standard work to ensure the safety and comfort of patients during these consultations.”

Humboldt is a site for the Community Oncology Program of Saskatchewan (COPS), and already has people coming into the facility for chemotherapy treatment. About 360 chemotherapy treatments are completed in Humboldt every year.

“We felt that many people would benefit from occasional physician consults through Tele-Health,” said Yvonne Berscheid, site leader at Humboldt District Health Complex.

A clinical consult room at HDH.

This consult room is presently used for patient clinics using the facility’s portable Telehealth cart. This is the room where the new equipment will be permanently installed.

Using TeleHealth for these appointments has proved popular with the patients from the Humboldt area; many are seeking this service.  However, the portable Telehealth equipment in Humboldt has to be moved and set up in a patient care area whenever such an appointment is arranged. While this ensures that patients receive care in the right place, it also means a great deal of work for administrative support staff in the building. The location of the appointments also pulls a nurse away from the Emergency Room, making him or her inaccessible during the length of the appointment.

To cut down on the set-up time for staff and patients, a new space has been set aside for these appointments, and a fixed videoconferening unit has been ordered to be installed in that space.

Once the new equipment arrives, it will be permanently located in a designated room in the Specialty Clinic area of the hospital. The room will not only be big enough to accommodate the patient, their family members and a Registered Nurse, it will be close enough to the emergency room that the nurse will still be accessible in case of emergency. Additionally, the installation of the equipment will cut down on prep time for appointments, allowing more patients to be seen this way.

“The facility staff recommended a new location that puts these patients in an acute care area and in closer proximity to nursing support,” said Opalko-Windecker. “They also asked that an RN must be present at the clinic. Not just for the pre-clinic tests, but as part of the clinic so they could answer any questions the oncologist may have. They could also be there to take a verbal order from the oncologist and support the patient.”

“An RN can help the patient navigate the next step,” said Laurie Brad-Richards, Registered Nurse at Humboldt District Hospital. “We can paraphrase and repeat the information presented by the oncologist, if needed, and can carry out physician orders for blood work or follow up care in real time. We can also be there to provide emotional support to patients who might not have a family member present.”

They are starting to see a trend for this service at the hospital, Brad-Richards noted, and can see other specialists wishing to meet this way with their patients in the future.

The new Telehealth equipment has now been ordered, and it is hoped the installation will occur in the late summer.

“We’ve had some great patient feedback about the system so far, and things will flow that much better once that equipment is installed,” said Berscheid.

“This makes a great deal of difference for oncology patients in Humboldt,” said Opalko-Windecker. “They are no longer travelling as often while they are ill, and they are receiving the same level of care as if they drove into Saskatoon to see their oncologist at the cancer centre.”

The Humboldt District Hospital Foundation (HDHF) was happy to help with the equipment purchase.

“Many of us know someone who is undergoing cancer treatments; however, we may not realize how many appointments are needed with their oncologist in Saskatoon,” noted Lorrie Bunko, executive director of the  HDHF. “Offering Telehealth for oncology patients at Humboldt District Hospital will mean reduced travel and hardship for patients and their families.”

“It is from donations that we are able to purchase the new Telehealth equipment to enhance our oncology services,” said Aaron Behiel, chair of the HDHF board. “We are grateful to all of our donors for the support we receive from them.”