Northern and remote communities virtual health-care pilot project receives $1.27 million in funding

Regina, Saskatchewan, Dec. 20, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Researchers with the University of Regina, the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre at the First Nations University of Canada, and the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital have received funding of $1.27 million over 5 years from the federal government’s Canada Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant for a virtual health care pilot project in northern First Nation communities.

“Indigenous children in remote Canadian communities are at risk because of poor access to comprehensive and local pediatric health care. They require rapid solutions that are culturally safe, community directed, and consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” says Dr. Gregory Hansen, pediatric neurointensivist at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital and adjunct nursing professor at the University of Regina.

Virtual health care allows specialists to provide a real-time assessment of the patient, who will also be able to offer support and follow-up conversations with the patient and their families.

“Each community our team is working with will now have access to pediatric specialists without patients or their families having to leave their communities—something that is long overdue,” says Cassandra Opikokew Wajuntah, assistant professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre at the First Nations University of Canada.

The pilot project builds on a previous pilot project with one northern Saskatchewan First Nation led by co-investigator Tanya Holt, with the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, that used a robot remotely operated by a pediatrician in Saskatoon to conduct virtual clinical visits. The new pilot project will see researchers using tablets to conduct virtual clinical visits with patients in several northern First Nation communities. The tablets are expected to provide more convenience, efficiency and portability.

“Developing a virtual health system in First Nations communities that is guided by community engagement allows the focus to be on caregiver engagement and customizing software,” says Hansen. “We’re currently working with 15 First Nations communities to create a virtual health-care platform based on what they want and need. We hope that more communities will sign on once we get started.”

The CIHR Project Grant program is designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related fundamental or applied knowledge, health research, health care, health systems, and/or health outcomes.

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About the University of Regina

The University of Regina—with campuses located on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories, the ancestral lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda nations and the homeland of the Métis—is a comprehensive, mid-sized university that traces its roots back to the creation of Regina College in 1911. Today, more than 16,000 students study within the University’s 10 faculties, 25 academic departments/schools, 18 research centres and institutes, and three federated colleges (Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, and Luther College). The University of Regina has an established reputation for excellence and innovative programs that lead to undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

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