Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Holt conducts an appointment with a young patient in Pelican Narrows while she is in an office in Saskatoon.  Photo by Joel Willick.

Health care providers in Saskatchewan are hoping robotics technology will bridge the health care gap for those living in remote locations.

On Tuesday, officials showcased a pilot project in Pelican Narrows where remote presence technology is being used to provide real time assessment and diagnosis for remote patients.

Basically, health-care providers are using robots to conduct scheduled appointments so families and patients don’t have to travel hours to receive the care they need.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit visited the health care facility in Pelican Narrows, where he attended a demonstration of the technology through a live connection to Saskatoon.

“This is a great example of how innovative, cutting edge technology is benefiting people in one of our northern communities by improving access to medical specialists,” Ottenbreit says.

Pelican Narrows was selected for the pilot project in 2014 for its remote location, large population of children and its burden of illness largely attributed to difficulty in accessing health services.

The pilot project was led by Dr. Ivan Mendez in partnership with Northern Medical Services and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

“Remote presence technology has the potential to be trans-formative in improving access to primary specialized health care to under-serviced remote and rural communities in Saskatchewan,” Mendez says.

He also says the project has demonstrated that 63 per cent of acutely ill children in Pelican Narrows could be treated effectively using this technology.

The application of the technology has many possible outcomes including pre-natal ultrasounds that can be conducted when a physician is thousands of kilometres away.

Rachel Johnson, a nurse practitioner in Pelican Narrows, has used the new technology to help a number of pediatric patients who would otherwise be considered for transport to other locations.

“Every day I witness the health disparities that our patients experience as a result of the distance to specialized service,” she says.  “The application of this technology is almost limitless, and it truly has the potential to transform health service delivery, across the entire province.”

According to Dr. Mendez $53 million dollars is spent every year transporting remote patients to the health care they need.

“We are going to continue to invest in this service,” said Ottenbriet while speaking to the media through the robot in Pelican Narrows.

The government says it is committing $500,000 to expand the program into other communities.