More and more Albertans are meeting with doctors through video conferencing, a technology that is making medical check-ups easier and less-stressful for families.

The technology, which allows patients to see, hear and speak with their health care providers without leaving their own community, has made a huge difference for five-year-old Brayden Bigoraj.

Instead of loading up to Edmonton, Brayden and his family, who live in Red Deer, say doctor check-ups have never been easier thanks to teleconferencing.

Brayden had arteriovenous malformation – an abnormal collection of blood vessels which resulted in a large mass the size of a cell phone forming behind his ear.

The five-year-old recently underwent surgery at the Stollery to remove the mass and now to follow-up with his neurosurgeon, the family just has to drive a few blocks to the local hospital and receive a check-up through a video chat.

“(It’s) so much easier. He’s in school, so I don’t have to take him out of school,” said Kimberly Bigoraj, Brayden’s mother.

“That’s been helpful that we’ve just been able to do it this way rather than having to travel to Edmonton and worry about the weather and expense. It’s much easier.”

Dr. Jeff Pugh, a neurosurgeon at the Stollery Children's Hospital, says he was unsure how closely he’d be able to inspect Brayden’s incision through the teleconferencing technology but was pleased to see it worked.

“I hadn’t utilized Telehealth before, I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to visualize the wound and I wasn’t sure what opportunities would be available for treatment in Red Deer,” Pugh said.

“With the technology I was able to see exactly those areas of break down. He has three areas that looked like cigarette burns that were breaking down and needed additional treatment for those that could be delivered in Red Deer.”

More video conferencing for health care in Alberta than before

The use of Telehealth systems is expanding in Alberta.

Last year, 650 patients met with a pediatric specialist through the technology – a 33 per cent increase compared to the year before.

It’s also estimated more than 4,300 discussions on patient cases and care plans took place between experts such as dietitians, pedestrians, cardiologists and urologists through Telehealth technology.

Pugh and the Bigoraj family will continue meeting via teleconference.

“It’s only a few minutes, we come here, Donna sets us up. Brayden’s comfortable with it and we’re not traveling. Dr. Pugh seems to be getting what he needs and we’ve been getting what we need,” Kimberly said.

“It’s worked really good.”

“For what I do, probably a lot of my follow-up could be through Telehealth,” Pugh said.

“There’s no doubt that I need to see face-to-face at least once because of the trust that’s involved in that relationship… it’s difficult for me to get out to remote communities but at least that would save families frequent trips back to Edmonton just to see me.”

It’s becoming a more popular tool in the health care system and one that Bigoraj says has meant less stress for her young son and more convenience for the family.

“When we’ve had to go after other appointments up there he’d get nervous and say, ‘do I have to have the needles?’ and that kind of thing,” Kimberly said.

“(With Telehealth), he knows we’re just having a look and a short talk and we’re on our way.”

There are about 1,000 Telehealth units in the province.

Telehealth sessions began at the Stollery in 1996, when the cardiology program developed video conferencing with other provinces in what was the beginning of the Western Canadian Children’s Heart Network.

With files from Carmen Leibel