For Amanda Sidhu, ensuring her daughter Kaitlyn got the medical care she needed was complicated and time-consuming, living as they do in Mission.
As an 11-year-old with semi lobar holoprosencephaly, a brain condition that causes seizures, diabetes and bone problems, Kaitlyn sees several doctors at B.C. Children’s Hospital every couple of months. She uses a wheelchair, doesn’t speak and is fed through a tube.
Trips to the hospital were disruptive. Amanda had to take a day off work and arrange for a nurse to be in the car for the one-hour-plus drive each way into Vancouver for a 15-minute appointment.
The trips stressed out mom and daughter, who dislikes car rides and associates the hospital with the unpleasant experience of surgeries, said Amanda.
So she welcomes the opening of the two virtual care sites in the Fraser Valley, in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, which allows Kaitlyn to have an appointment online with neurologist Dr. James Lee and her other specialists.
“It takes a lot of the stress from her, like a long 2½-hour drive in the car, and this is just a short drive from home,” said Amanda, after Kaitlyn’s virtual appointment on Friday at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital. “It’s great, Dr. Lee’s amazing, and we’re able to talk about everything we need to talk about and get everything figured out over the computer.”
And Kaitlyn can be cared for by the nurse at the centre, if needed, she said.
She said she has friends and relatives who live in the Interior and they have to take a week off to travel to Vancouver for appointments.
The two sites in the Fraser Health region — where about 300,000, or 40 per cent of B.C.’s children, live — are the 18th and 19th virtual sites opened in B.C. for young patients to have virtual appointments with B.C. Children’s Hospital doctors, according to the hospital.
“This is a great opportunity for patients to get care closer to home,” said Lee, who said the video conferencing option removes the geographical and distance barriers to health care.
Having a virtual appointment can “decrease the burden of travel on our patients and their families,” especially with patients with complex medical needs that require seeing several specialists, he said.
A nurse is always in the room and can take vital signs and other measurements for the doctor, he said.
He said most young people are comfortable using computers to communicate. “For young people and children, this is probably completely pretty natural for them because they may not have known anything else,” he said.
It’s an innovative way to deliver care to pediatric patients across the province, said Kit Johnson, a provincial director with Child Health B.C.
The virtual sites are located in rooms with child-friendly decorations and pediatric equipment in facilities for health care providers, including hospitals, health units and wellness centres.
The 19 telehealth centres in B.C. is part of a collaboration between Child Health B.C., B.C. Children’s Hospital and the provincial health authorities.
B.C. Children’s Hospital doctors do about 140 virtual appointments a month.