Report: Canada could save $730M by 2016 via telehealth

Canadian officials are enamored with their rapidly expanding national telehealth program, according to a new report from Canada Health Infoway. Already growing at 35 percent annually, the national telehealth service expects to increase that to 40 percent per year for the next five years, which ultimately would cover 1.2 million televisits per year, the report states. Should those numbers be reached, telehealth could save Canada's national healthcare system more than $730 million by 2016.

The report--"Telehealth Benefits and Adoption - Connecting People and Providers Across Canada"--is a checkup of the entire telehealth system in Canada, with statistics on everything from user number to services provided.

Highlights include:

  • The program's size and range: The system has enabled 5,710 telehealth "endpoints," or locations where providers can use telehealth technology. The system has provided 187,000 telehealth visits to nearly 1,200 communities across the country, and covers a whole host of clinical areas, including mental health, pediatrics, surgery, dermatology, oncology, pain management, stroke, rehab, wound care, and opthalmology.

    One interesting note: Nearly 40 percent of televisits are provided by non-physicians.

  • Improved access to care: Researchers estimate that of the 187,000 televisits, about 93,000 were provided to patients in rural areas, eliminating 29 million miles those patients would have had to travel to receive care. Providers, too, save on travel time--up to 496 days' worth in total--and can see hundreds more patients per year as a result, the report says.

  • Decreased patient wait times: Patient wait times for different specialties fell anywhere from 20 to 90 percent, according to the report. For example, patients can now receive dermatology services within 10 days, as opposed to seven weeks without telehealth interventions. Another example: Wait times for tele-opthalmology fell from 25 days to less than two.

  • The mental health effect: More than 54 percent of Canadian tele-services are mental health-related, the report states, followed by internal medicine (15 percent) and oncology (13 percent). Interestingly, surgeons are using telehealth to improve their productivity, the report says. By providing pre- and post-operative consults via tele-visit, surgeons are "maximizing their operating room time."

To learn more:
- read Canada Health InfoWay's press release
- here's the report (.pdf)
- check out CTV Edmonton's coverage