Aim: To explore patients' and families' experiences with video telehealth consultations as a method of health care delivery in rural/ remote communities in Northern Canada.
Background: Accessing health services in isolated populations where human resources and infrastructure are constrained by vast geographical landmasses poses challenges and opportunities for nurses, health care providers, patients and families.
Design: A qualitative approach was adopted with a purposeful sample of 10 patients and four family members representative of nine communities.
Method: Selection criteria included patients receiving telehealth visits for a minimum of a year and willing to share their experiences. Data were collected during the winter of 2006 using semi-structured video taped interviews and analysed using a qualitative thematic content analysis.
Results: Patients and families experiences of their telehealth visits centered on three key themes: lessening the burden (costs of travel, accommodations, lost wages, lost time and physical limitations), maximising supports (access to family, friends, familiar home environment, nurses and other care providers), tailoring specific e-health systems to enhance patient and family needs.
Conclusion: The benefits of telehealth extend not only to patients and families but are linked to benefits for providers as well as the health care system.
Relevance to clinical practice: This study indicates that video telehealth is an effective mechanism for delivering nursing and other health services to rural/remote communities and can impact positively on the quality of health care. The integration of telehealth practice can enhance the coordination, organisation and implementation of health care services.