Telemedicine was a revolutionary concept when it began delivering care to rural populations at a distance by way of videoconferencing. It improved access to care, reduced the hardship of travel, and even saved lives in critical situations.

While rural videoconferencing continues to play a significant role, telemedicine and its applications have evolved, now linking providers with one another, connecting patients and caregivers with care teams, supporting patients at home via video visits, and offering new tools to help patients self-manage their chronic conditions.

“Telemedicine has not only proven very effective in terms of patient care in Ontario, it also avoids enormous costs to our health care system,” says Dr. Edward M. Brown, founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), an independent not-for-profit organization funded by the Government of Ontario. OTN is now in its second decade of operating one of the largest and most active integrated telemedicine networks in the world.

“Most importantly, patients love telemedicine, because it takes away the stress of travel and associated lost time at work or with family,” says Dr. Brown, who adds that OTN works with many health care partners to take advantage of the tremendous advances in technology to create new models of care.

OTN’s flagship Telehomecare program is the perfect illustration, since it’s delivered in conjunction with Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). The remote patient-monitoring program currently delivers to 9 of the 14 LHINs, targeting people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and/or congestive heart failure.

“Those two diseases, which cause enormous challenges for people, are among the top three reasons for hospital admissions in Canada,” says Dr. Brown. “But we’ve been remarkably successful at reducing hospital admissions through the combination of monitoring and coaching, which helps to educate and motivate patients.”

In addition to monitoring patients’ vital signs daily, specially trained nurses provide regular health coaching to help patients make lifestyle changes that have a positive effect on their condition, helping them to live to the fullest and with as much independence as possible.

Telehomecare is positioned to extend its reach with the procurement of a new vendor — Vivify Health — that will offer an innovative platform that opens the door for new ways for patients to manage their conditions and interact with their health care providers.

First piloted in 2007, Telehomecare has made a significant impact: the program has been shown to reduce hospital admissions and emergency room use among its target patient population by more than 60 percent.