Recent History – 2000
June 26, 2000, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Existing psychiatric services in Dawson Creek will be complemented by a video-conferencing system that will give local patients access to sessions with psychiatrists based elsewhere in the province.
Called TeleMentalHealth, the program was announced Friday with the help of the very same technology that will be used in the northeast B.C. in a one-year pilot project.
The announcement was made by Health Minister Mike Farnworth from the University of British Columbia and was transmitted to sites in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, and Fort Nelson.
“If you can hear me and see me, then you know there’s a lot of technology involved in today’s announcement,” he said as a small group at Dawson Creek and District Hospital watched Farnworth speak on a television screen.
“But this project isn’t about technology, it’s about people and about mental health services.”
Once the program is into high gear, between 10 and 15 patients in Dawson Creek are expected to use the system each month. Eight patients are currently using the system and four of those sessions are for children and youth and two are for the elderly.
The system will also be used by support groups for educational purposes.
In the South Peace, the program will be operated out of both the Dawson Creek and District Hospital and the Peace-Liard Community Health Service Society’s public health unit.
The same technology will also be put to use in Fort St. John and Fort Nelson.
A similar program has been operating in Alberta for about 10 years.
“The technology has improved and it’s an opportunity for us to get on board,” said Tracy McLellan, the in-patient clinical co-ordinator at the hospital.
Statistics show that the vast major prefer the technology to having wait for an appointment or to travel for a session. As well, children and adults alike have taken to the system positively.
“If someone is very very agitated, the physician would have difficulty interviewing them face-to-face, and you would have similar difficulties interviewing them through video-conferencing,” said Dr. Elliot Goldner from UBC.
During a question and answer period that followed the announcement, Dawson Creek doctor Chris Gorton said that although he welcomes the program, more psychiatrists are also needed.
He noted that in B.C. there is about one psychiatrist for every 10,000 residents, and one psychiatrist for every 63,000 people in the Peace Liard region.
“There is no way in my view that tele-psychiatry can do the work of five full-time psychiatrists and so along with this excellent program, we’d very much like to see a push to enroll some more psychiatrists in this region because they are very badly needed,” he said.
“We have a wonderful airplane here, but we’re still lacking a pilot.”
When asked, Farnworth said that more psychiatrists are needed, as are more health care professionals in general. “That’s very much a part of our discussions with Ottawa,” he said.
He also said that the program is not meant to replace psychiatrists.
“It’s not intended to replace people,” he said. “It’s intended to compliment and to build on and in fact develop a better system.”