This kind of videoconferencing can mean the difference between life and death

A program manager with Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital shows how collaboration technology can bring care to traditionally out-of-reach areas of Canada

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This space usually focuses on using the latest IP technology to keep your business connected, work efficiently and save money.

Let’s talk about using it to save lives, too.

In January, Nunavut’s chief coroner Padma Suramala called an inquest. She won’t be investigating just one death, but several. There were 45 suicides in Nunavut last year, the highest annual number since the territory’s creation in 1999. Suramala is determined to take a deeper look at the region’s overall suicide rate, which is 13 times higher than Canada’s national average.

Once again, we all ask: “Why is this happening?”  But let’s not forget to ask, “How can we help?”

David Willis is convinced that technology is part of the answer.  He’s clinical program manager of the TeleLink Mental Health Program at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. Launched in 2009, TeleLink provides mental health services to kids and teens in rural and remote parts of Ontario.

The key is videoconferencing and collaboration technology. By using it, psychiatrists at SickKids in Toronto can treat young patients in areas of Ontario where the nearest care is often hours away. In TeleLink’s first year, 95 per cent of all mental health referrals made to the program were actually completed, an “unusually high rate,” according to one study.

It’s not just about access. Some research suggests virtual psychiatry can be even more effective for youth than face-to-face sessions, says Willis.

“It takes away barriers and that uncomfortable feeling of sitting in front of a 60-year-old psychiatrist when you’re 14,” he says.

Now TeleLink’s reach is getting wider. Thanks to $200,000 in funding from RBC, plus TelePresence video technology donated by Cisco Canada, the program will be extended to Nunavut for the next three years.

(Cisco is also contributing $1.6 million to launch a virtual education program called Connected North. Three classrooms in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories will be connected via videoconferencing with teachers, students and guest experts in other parts of Canada.)

Video and collaboration technology alone isn’t going to eradicate suicide for an entire generation of Inuit and Aboriginal youth. But it does create conversations that never flow just one way. For TeleLink and Connected North, that’s uniquely important.

At a recent Toronto event announcing TeleLink’s extension to Nunavut, Willis said the program is built around listening to local patients, families, educators and healthcare providers, “not just telling them what to do.”

“We are open and ready to learn,” he said. “We are not one-sided.”

As another speaker noted at the Toronto event, it’s very much in the spirit of mamow, the Ojibway and Cree word for ‘sharing’ or ‘altogether.’

Unified communication and collaboration, indeed.

Download The Enterprise Collaboration eBook: A How-to Guide to Unified Communications, from Allstream.  

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