Haida Gwaii project allows patients to reach health-care professionals via text

A new pilot project in northwestern B.C. will allow patients to contact their health team via text message.

Project lead Dr. Tracey Morton says the project — run out of a health-care clinic in Queen Charlotte on Haida Gwaii — is a little more involved than the pre-existing provincial nurses information hotline which offers more general advice.

"Here, people can discuss [specific] information with their care-provider team and it's linked to their chart. So we know — pretty much — their full medical history," he explained.

The project will enrol any interested patient in the service, Morton says, although he says those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure might find it most useful.

On the clinic end, nurse practitioners and physicians will attempt to respond to queries within the day and add patient reports to medical charts.

"We imagine applications, such as a diabetic sharing their blood sugar level or those with chronic conditions sharing specific information about how they're doing and how they're feeling if they're starting a new treatment," Morton said.

Inspired by Kenyan project

The inspiration for the service came from Morton's friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Lester, a University of British Columbia researcher who started a similar service for rural HIV patients in Kenya.

These patients had limited access to landline and in-person services, but cellphones were readily available. Through the texting project, nurses were able to follow up and better support patients.

"They found very successful uptake for those just starting HIV treatments which can be very complicated and often have many side effects," he said.

On Haida Gwaii, a remote island archipelego on B.C.'s North Coast, health care can also be a challenge, due to a lack of resources and people living far away from urban centres.

"For some practices here, it can be a few weeks wait for patients to see their doctor," Morton explained.

While he cautions the service won't replace emergency care, he said he hoped the service would provide a more efficient experience and eliminate time "playing phone tag."

The service officially launched on April 1 and is currently funded for two years.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Tracey Morton on CBC's Daybreak North: