President & CEO, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada
Dr. Geoffrey Nguyen
Gastroenterologist, Mount Sinai Hospital, & National Lead PACE Program, & Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto
Living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be an incredibly challenging experience. The 270,000 Canadians living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (the main forms of IBD) are often confronted with issues including the time it takes to get diagnosed, finding a treatment that works for them, and accessing specialized care, particularly if they live in a rural community.
“Living with Crohn’s or colitis can be debilitating, and there are no known cures,” says Mina Mawani, President and CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. “With symptoms like bloody diarrhea, pain, fatigue, and weight loss, people often become restricted from living a full life and feel isolated and alone. Studies show that the sooner an individual is diagnosed and on a treatment that works for them, the better the long-term outcome.”
A pilot project at Mount Sinai Hospital is looking to bridge the gap for patients living in rural communities who need a proper diagnosis and help treating symptoms of IBD. Promoting Access and Care through Centres of Excellence (PACE) Telemedicine Program allows specialists to reach people who have poor access to gastroenterologists.
Dr. Geoffrey Nguyen, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto and National Lead of the PACE program, says the program is “similar to Skype videoconferencing, but it ensures privacy and has specialized software for ease of scheduling.” It operates within the Ontario Telemedicine Network and allows gastroenterologists to connect with patients in rural communities from a telemedicine studio, usually located in a nearby hospital or health care clinic. In turn, wait times are cut dramatically.
“The impact of the program has been significant. We’ve been able to shorten wait times from about 120 days to just 17 days,” says Dr. Nguyen. “That’s a dramatic decrease to either treat the symptoms of IBD or to determine the initial diagnosis.”
“Providing care through telemedicine is improving patients’ quality of life in terms of reducing time and money spent on travel and not having to take time off work,” Mawani adds. “Along with this, virtual care has provided a means for keeping patients connected with their gastroenterologist during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
We’ve been able to shorten wait times from about 120 days to just 17 days.Dr. Geoffrey Nguyen, University of Toronto
As for the future of the program, Mawani hopes to see it expand across the country through partnerships and collaborations.
“We’re looking to partner with government, the private sector, and other IBD clinics to see how we can work together to expand access to care all across the country,” she says.