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More patients in La Loche will now be able to receive care in their home community as a result of the provincial government’s $500,000 commitment to expand the use of remote presence technology in northern Saskatchewan.

Health Minister Jim Reiter was in Saskatoon today for a demonstration of this innovative technology with a live connection to La Loche.

“This cutting-edge technology will make health care services more accessible for the people of La Loche,” Reiter said in a news release. “Our government remains committed to ensuring that patients have access to quality, timely health care, regardless of where they live in Saskatchewan.”

Remote presence technology enables health care providers to perform real-time assessments, diagnostics and patient management from a remote location, through either a mobile robot or smaller portable hand-held device known as a “doc-in-a-box.”

La Loche, which was chosen based on its remoteness, health-related population features, overall level of need, and connectivity-related infrastructure.

Annette Montgrand is the grandmother of a severely injured teenage girl that needs to have frequent medical follow-up and physiotherapy. She says without the doc-in-a-box, she wouldn’t have had those treatments.

“We would not have been able to travel as frequently as necessary to see the physicians and physiotherapists in Saskatoon,” Montgrand said. “I am very pleased that my granddaughter was able to be followed up remotely by the doctors in Saskatoon here at home in La Loche using this technology.”

RPT was pioneered in Saskatchewan by Dr. Ivar Mendez, the Fred H. Wigmore Professor and Unified Head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan, and was first piloted in Pelican Narrows in 2014 with funding from the Ministry of Health. This project reduced the need for medical transport, allowing patients to receive care in the community with their families.

“Providing timely access to health care to remote northern communities not only benefits our patients, but our studies have demonstrated that it is highly cost-efficient,” Mendez said. “The expansion of this program will provide access to primary and specialized medical care to underserviced communities in real-time. We are world leaders in the application of advanced remote presence technologies for health care delivery to rural and remote populations.”

Northern Medical Services Director Dr. Veronica McKinney says access to care has been notoriously difficult for many northern communities with significant health disparities and an inordinate burden of disease borne by our community members.

“We are entering a new chapter in health care whereby some of these access issues can be addressed, treating the patient, the families and the communities where they are and when they need. This is a very positive step toward building equity in our health care system,” she added.

RPT will initially be used for pediatric emergency assessment in La Loche, while the Ministry of Health explores additional service offerings and works to identify priority sites for further expansion.