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Saturday, June 5, 1999

Medical network up and running

Cyberhealth system first on continent

By RACHEL BOOMER -- The Daily News

Nova Scotia's $8-million telemedicine network is in place, linking doctors from Yarmouth to Neil's Harbour.

Forty-one telemedicine sites are operating, the province announced at a Halifax news conference yesterday. It's the first all-province cyberhealth system in North America, allowing doctors to send patient X-rays, get opinions from big-city specialists, and take part in training programs.

Premier Russell MacLellan said yesterday the network will save travel time and money, and help lure more doctors to rural areas.

Rural isolation reduced

Touting the $600-million Health Investment Fund in this week's budget, MacLellan said the fund can be used to invest in new, money-saving technology if that's what health care professionals want.

"One of the main impediments to recruiting rural physicians is a sense of isolation from other physicians," added Liverpool's Dr. Michael Ernest, via an Internet hookup.

Being able to communicate with other doctors might ease that isolation, he said.

Included in the 1999-2000 provincial budget is a $2.5-million estimate to run the system this year.

It's expected it will eliminate some patient transportation costs - for example, a typical air-ambulance flight costs the health-care system $10,000.

Government advisor Dr. Dan Reid estimated 70 to 80 per cent of dermatology patients could be diagnosed through telemedicine.

Wide-ranging uses

In eastern Nova Scotia, where the project began, more than 8,000 X-rays have been transmitted through the system, while psychiatrists have had 60 cyberspace consultations with long-distance doctors.

The project began in 1996, with pilot sites in Sheet Harbour, Halifax, Guysborough, Sydney, and North Sydney.

The federal government kicked in $3.7 million of its $8-million pricetag, TecKnowledge Healthcare Systems, which began work on the technology 41/2 years ago at the request of then-health minister Ron Stewart, expects its workforce to jump to 400 from 27 as it sells the technology worldwide.


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