BC Children's Hospital opens first-in-Canada hearing clinic
Lily Palmer got a cochlear implant - a device implanted in the brain that allows a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to hear - when she was just one year old.
Since then, for more than a decade, her family has made the eight-and-a-half hour drive from their home in Prince George to BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver multiple times per year.
On Thursday, they didn't have to.
BC Children's Hospital has opened a permanent, remote clinical service for patients with cochlear implants in Prince George.
The first of its kind in Canada, the clinic allows doctors to tap into a patient's implant remotely. That means families like Palmer's don't have to make their way to Vancouver for the routine procedure known as "virtual mapping," a process that essentially amounts to tuning the device.
"Now we can have a patient visit our clinic that we have set up in Prince George, and we can remote in and remotely control the software that they need to be connected to while we program their cochlear implants," said audiologist Reagen Bergstrom, who conducted Lily Palmer's virtual mapping session Thursday.
"They don't actually have to be physically with us on the same site any longer," Bergstrom said.
Andrea Palmer, Lily's mother, told CTV News Vancouver the new facility is going to make their family's life easier and more affordable.
"I don't think telehealth will take over from all of our visits because face-to-face is still really great," Andrea Palmer said. "But for the basic mapping sessions, when we don't have any problems and we're just checking in, it's fantastic."
BC Children’s Hospital hopes to set up three or four similar clinics across the province over the next two years.
Currently, there are approximately 250 deaf and hard of hearing children with cochlear implants in B.C., according to the hospital, which provides roughly 35 new cochlear implants each year. More than 40 per cent of the hospital's cochlear implant patients live outside the Greater Vancouver area.