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Connecting First Nations Communities


I was at my brother’s house one evening this summer and he introduced me to his friend Dr. John Pawlovich.  He told me that he was a doctor working in extremely remote first Nations communities up in northern British Columbia. Some of these places only had 100 people living in the community and they were living 300 km north west of Prince George. He went on to talk about how these towns are almost completely cut off and that he has to fly in by helicopter when he does his medical visits. I asked him how he stayed in touch with these patients when he lives in Abbotsford BC, almost 1400km away.  He said he used a new technology called Telehealth, which was an advanced videoconferencing system that allowed him to do full examinations on patients using high-resolution handheld cameras.

RPMy ears really perked up when he said that he would never be able to do this if TELUS hadn’t put together the infrastructure and connectivity for these remote peoples. When I told him I work for TELUS as a video producer capturing stories, he invited me on his next trip. So in September myself and a cameraman joined him on his visit to these communities for four days.

We flew from Vancouver to Prince George, met up with a nurse, boarded a helicopter, and flew for two hours over some of the most pristine beautiful forest and mountain regions in Canada, to a remote community called Tachet. We landed beside a small medical clinic nestled on Lake Babine, the longest lake in BC, where millions of salmon make their way from the ocean up through this lake to spawn. I began to meet the nurses, healthcare workers and first Nations elders who told me about how important and vital both Telehealth, and TELUS connectivity is to their community.

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Dr. John supplements all of his Telehealth work from his home office in Abbotsford with monthly checkups with his patients on the ground. Using Telehealth he is able to assess wounds, look in people’s throats or ears, check blood-pressure, and a host of other diagnostic capabilities.

RP4What I was amazed at most was in speaking with his patients they said that what telehealth has allowed them to do is have a doctor fit into their timetable and their schedule rather than them trying to fit into the rigid confines of a doctor’s schedule. Dr. John loves it too. He says that he sees a future for this way of delivering medicine to not just people in remote places but to everyone across Canada. He talked about how the convenience of the technology allows the patient and doctor to connect from anywhere.

RP3We stayed up in these communities four nights, so I got to know some of the local people. Every night we ate fresh salmon, moose and ate Bannock bread cooked over an open fire. This was the first time I began to understand how important remote connectivity is for these very vulnerable Canadian citizens.

Whether it’s giving kids access to high-speed Internet for educational resources, or having high-speed connection for a medical clinic which gives them access to doctors, TELUS is leading the way connecting these first Nations communities.

I felt proud to be a member of the TELUS team and was excited to come home and share Dr. John’s story.

Randall Peters is a Senior Producer at TELUS Studios.