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Furey focuses on rural healthcare

From left: Andrew Furey, Andrew Parsons, and Dr. David Thomas talk to reporters at the Hotel Port aux Basques on Tuesday, Jan. 19. – René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By ROSALYN ROY

PORT AUX BASQUES – A Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal red tour bus emblazoned with Premier Andrew Furey’s face rolled into the Hotel Port aux Basques parking lot on Tuesday morning, Jan. 19. With the provincial election underway, the campaign is making scheduled stops across the island, including along the Southwest Coast.

Part of Furey’s election pitch includes eHealth and telemedicine delivery for more rural population areas. Specifically, Furey wants to invest in technology and IT training, including on-site IT support. The cost savings from shifting to this model will then be reinvested to expanded subsidies for more rural residents to travel for specialized healthcare.

“Expanding eHealth/telemedicine services means decreasing travel time and costs, while increasing access to services – which is paramount for rural areas of the province.”

Furey also hopes to avoid the added stress of avoidable travel to patients and caregivers.

“I’ve been on the other side of that, and I can see how you can do that virtually now,” said Furey.

He also praised Dr. David Thomas, Chief of Staff at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Medical Centre, with taking the initiative to start a Facebook Live podcast to help deliver necessary information to residents.

Part of the plan is to facilitate medical care in communities that may have only one doctor or nurse servicing the area. Instead of being cut off with only books to refer to, the medical personnel would be able to stay connected.

“Sometimes doctors or nurses resist going to communities because they don’t feel supported,” noted Furey. “Now you can be online and with a virtual consult with a specialist in St. John’s or in Corner Brook fairly quickly.”

He noted that virtual care isn’t going to replace patient-doctor contact entirely, but it will eliminate one element of it. When an in-person visit is required, it may include a team system, wherein a local medical provider completes the physical exam and consults with the specialist virtually.

“This time of disruption has allowed us to recognize the power of integration, and one of the tools at our fingertips to do that is electronic health,” said Furey.

That may include increasing technical support and training.

“I’d like to think now that your healthcare team is going to be a doctor, nurse, Allied health and tech support, and that’s what we’re kind of committed to.”

For remote communities hoping to attract doctors, Furey promises to continue working with Memorial University and MNLA to develop physician recruitment and retention programs.

“That’s kind of one of the issues that is facing young grads as they emerge from medical school is the romantic notion of being an isolated practitioner. Even in an urban setting, frankly, is no longer appealing. They want the work-life balance.”

Mayor John Spencer is worried about people falling through the cracks.

“The virtual model introduced was never virtual in scope, occurring primarily over the telephone. My own experience as a cancer patient is an example. My physical trip to see the specialist was replaced by a telephone call – a how is it going?,” shared Spencer via e-mail. But he does see the potential too.

“Anything to save money and travel time to avoid trips across the island for specialist services taking ten minutes or to travel to St. John’s to discover a scheduled appointment has been cancelled would be a vast improvement,” wrote Spencer. “There are other times, with the support of a local doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse being present where a virtual meet can be assist in patient care. Our medical system needs to find a healthy balance.”

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