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Forum attracts global leaders in applying remote presence technology in rural and remote communities

The University of Saskatchewan's International Centre for Northern Governance and Development (ICNGD) joined with the College of Nursing to offer a three day, international forum on March 3rd, 4th and 5th to explore the application of remote learning technology in rural, remote and northern communities. The forum, which attracted global leaders, brought together individuals using remote presence technology for training and clinical purposes. "The U of S is honoured to welcome this outstanding delegation of global leaders in remote presence technology," said Forum Chair Dr. Lorna Butler. "Four countries (Canada, United States, Philippines and Russia) are coming together and sharing their expertise. The innovative thinking that each person contributes to this new and emerging area of health technology is revolutionary. Individually and collectively we are changing peoples' lives."

The forum offered individuals an opportunity to share their experiences and brainstorm how the implementation of this type of technology can potentially transform the delivery of health education and practice. Keynote speakers included Pat Crotty (Nain Health Clinic), Dr. Debi Sampsel (University of Cincinnati), Dr. Nikolai Semenovich Diachkovskii (Northeastern Federal University, Yakutsk, Russia), Honourable Rob Norris (Minister of Advanced Education), Mayor Duane Favel (Ile-a-la-Crosse), Bridget Larocque (former Executive Director, Gwich'in Council, President of Inuvik Metis Council), Dr. James Irvine (Medical Health Officer for Athabasca, Keewatin Yatthé and Mamawetan Churchill River Health Authorities), Charles Bighead (e-Health Advisor & Linda Nosbush, Capacity Development Advisor, Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority) and Mayor Thomas Sierzycki (La Ronge). And from the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Lorna Butler (ICNGD), Dr. Greg Poelzer (ICNGD), Dr. Lois Berry (Nursing), Dr. Alyssa Hayes (Dentistry), Dr. Jill Bally (Nursing), Dr. Heather Exner-Pirot (Nursing) and Dr. Ken Coates (ICNGD).

The forum wrapped up Wednesday afternoon with an engaging public session entitled "How can Remote Presence solve our healthcare delivery challenges?" delivered by Dr. Yulun Wang, Chairman & CEO, InTouch Health, Santa Barbara, California.

"Saskatchewan is well situated to be a global leader in using remote presence technology, both in health sciences education and in rural and remote clinical practice," said Butler. "By bringing together at this forum researchers, educators, technology experts and northern stakeholders who are using or have invested resources in this technology, we hope to create a global network of innovation leaders who are willing to advance an interprofessional application of remote presence technology in the health sciences."

"Our Centre is focused on working with Northerners to build strong communities," said ICNGD Director, Ken Coates. "One of the first steps in accomplishing this is ensuring healthcare needs are met; in terms of availability of services, but also in terms of contributing to the advancement of health research. Northerners want and need to be involved in shaping their own training and service delivery systems and this forum is one way we're helping them do that."

The ICNGD and College of Nursing have been working together for over three years on various projects designed to address healthcare challenges in northern and remote communities. Some of their other joint initiatives include:

  • The Summer Institute - A field school that matches students in the ICNGD's Master of Northern Governance and Development program with northern nursing students for the purposes of: building a better understanding of northern health issues and discovering new approaches that overcome challenges posed by remoteness.
  • Distributed Learning - Through the use of technological innovations such as videoconferencing and robotics, the ICNGD and College of Nursing are working to overcome the obstacles presented by remoteness and to extend high quality training and service delivery in northern and other rural/remote communities.

The College of Nursing has been using remote presence technology to deliver its Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to students in La Ronge and Ile-á-la-Crosse since September 2012. The use of this technology for health education in northern communities addresses two major challenges to the system. First, the acute shortage of Aboriginal health professionals in northern Saskatchewan and second when students learn how to use the remote presence technology during their education, they will be able to use it in clinical practice after graduation, a theory that was explored in great depth during the remote presence forum. Click here to watch how the College of Nursing uses remote presence technology to deliver Undergraduate education.