Guided by their shared desire to return to their mountain roots, in 2020 Dr. Aaron Krenkel and his family packed up and moved from urban Portland, Oregon to the rural Kootenay Boundary region, where Dr. Krenkel hoped to build on a career foundation in psychotherapy-centered psychiatry.
“While I love individual psychotherapy work,” says Krenkel, “I wanted to explore translating those interests into smaller community psychiatry. I also wanted to work collaboratively with folks in allied fields, such as nursing and social work, to extend the benefits to an entire clinic and community.”
Of course, patient services in rural areas can face many challenges, communications being one of them. Mix in COVID best practices restricting travel and the need for creative solutions increases. For the Kootenay Boundary region, designing and implementing a tailored tele-psychiatry initiative to help patients and overcome access issues became the best solution.
Pandemic increases tele-psychiatry need
“The pandemic accelerated many clinician's adaptation of telemedicine,” adds Dr. Krenkel. “In the space of a few days in March, I went from never having done any, to providing 100% virtual care. I quickly became ready to take on some new adventures with telemedicine.”
Kootenay Boundary’s tele-psychiatry project was initiated by forward-thinking psychiatrist Dr. Karen Trueman, reacting to the changing needs in rural communities made more critical by the COVID pandemic protocols. The program caught psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Krenkel’s attention and he joined shortly after moving to Nelson, British Columbia. He describes Dr Trueman as a generous mentor and trail-blazer.
“Dr Trueman’s commitment to and understanding of the region's needs, including the way smaller and isolated communities need psychiatric services, put the focus on how different specialities could help each other and our communities.”
Technology bridges a service and distance gap
Before formally joining the Tele-Psychiatry initiative, Dr. Krenkel had been providing telemedicine services during the pandemic, connecting with patients in outlying areas like Crawford Bay, Balfour and Kaslo. Consulting with staff at Kootenay Lake Hospital, Nelson, could be just the tip of the telemedicine iceberg as this service grows.
“There's a saying that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. We can tend to devalue the importance of the non-verbal and non-symbolic forms of experiencing,” he adds, referring to body language, sharing space and experiences.
“The challenge of tele-psychiatry, for me, will lie in balancing access to care with preserving embodied experiences; our nervous systems are not just those brains up there!” Krenkel says.
With psychiatrists a call away, doctors can now book a tele-consultation for their patients. Protocols are in place to respect the privacy of the patient and the practitioner. It is a short-term answer that may have a long-term impact.
“In some form or another, I think telemedicine will be here to stay after COVID restrictions ease,” says Dr. Krenkel. “I envision a future where I meet with patients occasionally via telemedicine, but where we'll also have some in-person experiences, and the two will complement each other.”
Would you like more information on Specialist Positions available in the Kootenay Boundary in beautiful British Columbia? Contact Sylvain Turgeon, Head of KB Doctors Recruitment directly.
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