The northern village of Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, has been waiting for an X-ray machine since 1996.
He finally got one this summer.
Pelican Narrows and two other Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) communities – Deschambault Lake and Southend – are the first communities in Canada to have ultra-portable x-ray machines thanks to a partnership with Synthesis Health.
The devices, which are about as small and easy to use as a digital camera, will help people get diagnoses and treatments without having to leave their homes.
After a frontline healthcare worker takes an x-ray, it is uploaded to Synthesis’ system, where an artificial intelligence program detects it for any abnormalities. Then the x-ray is also read by a licensed radiologist in Saskatchewan, and patients can usually get their results within 24 hours.
Calgary-based radiologist and Synthesis Health chief medical officer Dr. Deepak Kaura said the company has been developing an artificial intelligence program for chest X-rays since 2018. It was approved by Health Canada in 2020.
“The idea for this started with exactly the situation that [PBCN] is where people on the front line of care simply don’t have access to on-site diagnostics,” Dr. Kaura said. “So their patients have to travel all these almost ungodly distances to try to get access to simple diagnostics.”
The project was funded by a grant from Canada’s Digital Supercluster, so it “had no cost to the health system in each of these communities,” Dr. Kaura said.
Genevieve St. Denis, preventative health manager for PBCN Health Services, said the program is the first of its kind in Canada and is “just a huge breakthrough for our communities.”
“I am very excited. I am happy for the members of our communities, because they can now access services in a timely manner. They can get effective diagnosis, treatment planning and follow-up care that can be provided directly on the spot in their community of origin.
“They don’t have to travel miles and miles or wait days to be sent further south.”
Ms St. Denis said the new machines had generated a lot of excitement and some communities wanted to start planning x-ray clinics as soon as possible, but to allow enough time for everyone to familiarize themselves with the machines and software. , they are waiting for October 1st to open the clinics to everyone.
“Our staff is very enthusiastic,” said Ms. St. Denis. “They were very receptive to x-ray machines. They got in there, rolled up their sleeves and just started using them.
These x-ray machines will be particularly useful in controlling the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in northern communities – including the current outbreak in Pelican Narrows, where cases are “skyrocketing”, Ms St. Denis said.
X-rays can help healthcare workers screen for tuberculosis, as well as pneumonia, heart problems and certain types of cancer. At the moment, they are limited to chest X-rays, but Synthesis hopes to expand its services to arms and legs.
Dr. Kaura said the excitement around these first three X-ray machines has been encouraging and shows how much this kind of technology is needed in remote and northern communities.
“I think what we’re doing here is going to herald a new way of practicing medicine in Canada,” he said.
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