Healthcare goes global: how to transfer your imaging to international providers

When doctors declared his brain tumor inoperable, Garrett started to lose hope. But after using PocketHealth to send his imaging remotely to a U.S. specialist, his life expectancy went from less than a year to 10-15 years and he discovered a game-changing way to receive care. 

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that life can change in the blink of an eye.

It’s a lesson that Garrett, a patient from Hamilton, Ontario, found out firsthand when he was rushed to the hospital on a cold day in April. The 41-year-old had suffered a brain hemorrhage that robbed him of a large part of his vision and left him facing an uncertain future. A biopsy revealed he had glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, that was rapidly expanding. He was given less than a year to live. 

“For the first little bit, I couldn’t read or write or anything,” he says. “Then I was fortunate enough, after a month or so, to gain back enough vision that I could do some research to understand the disease.”

Waiting in line for a specialist is not always an option

Garrett learned that his cancer, which affects four out of every 100,000 Canadians, is the deadliest type of primary brain tumor and is extremely difficult to treat because of its ability to imbed itself deep inside the delicate areas of the brain and resist conventional forms of treatment. He also learned that Canada’s healthcare system, stretched to the limit at the best of times, was buckling under the strain of a pandemic that had raged for over two years with no end in sight. 

Many other Canadian patients seeking specialty care face the same predicament, with wait times to see a specialist rising to 25.6 weeks in 2021 – a notable increase from the 20.9 weeks recorded in 2020.

Historically, these long wait times push Canadians to seek care abroad, contributing to the growing medical tourism industry. But this is not a sustainable fix to an overstretched healthcare system. Given the high cost of travel and medical bills from receiving care abroad, it’s financially inaccessible and physically straining for many patients suffering from an illness.

There is a better way, however. With the rise of Telehealth and virtual tools, travel shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to physician consults – where patients discuss their problems and explore treatment options. For these non-surgical visits, all a patient needs is an internet connection to take their appointment from the comfort of their own home and determine the next steps in their treatment journey.

A seamless way to transfer your medical imaging globally

The wait to see a specialist grew longer by the day and Garrett’s diagnosis didn’t allow for that kind of time. With all this weighing on him, he opted to search further afield. 

“I had to look at different avenues and treatments because in Canada, unfortunately, the only thing we do is chemo and radiation, which doesn’t have the best results,” says Garrett. “So I went worldwide, looking for anyone who could give me answers.”

A family referral turned Garret’s attention to The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where a specialist had just removed a brain tumor from a patient with the same form of aggressive cancer. They needed the MRI scans of his glioblastoma — normally no easy task considering he already received treatment at three different Ontario hospitals. Historically, these clinics only shared such results on CDs that must be purchased and picked up by patients. With the urgency of Garrett’s condition, time was a major factor and gathering CDs from Hamilton and Toronto would only slow him down, potentially creating serious consequences. “That’s a problem if you don’t have much time,” says Garrett, who was only given six to eight months to live. 

Fortunately, the urgency of his situation meant Garrett had already signed up for PocketHealth, where he had instant access to his medical imaging and the ability to share it with specialists around the world. With all of his records in one centralized place, he was able to send them the information they needed without leaving the comfort of his home. 

“If it weren’t for PocketHealth, I was probably going to drive down and deliver them myself,” he says. “When I got another MRI done at a private clinic recently, they were able to upload it within six hours, right to PocketHealth. It was amazing.”

Transforming the ways we receive care

As Garrett’s care expanded across borders, so did his treatment options. A New York laboratory is examining his pathology to better understand his cancer and determine if he is a candidate for emerging treatments.

But PocketHealth’s capabilities are not just applicable to cross-border providers. Since it’s network agnostic, that means any doctor anywhere in the world can instantly access imaging records, with the patient’s authorization. So while your local hospital operates on you, a renowned physician in Australia, Asia or anywhere in Europe can look at your scans and find the latest treatments or trials for experimental therapies. It expands patients’ access to healthcare systems beyond borders, giving patients more therapeutic opportunities.

A new and improved cancer prognosis

Meanwhile, a Toronto neurosurgeon prepares for Garrett’s surgery in Canada. “My cancer went from inoperable to operable almost immediately, just from them looking at the MRIs,” he says. “Now they believe they can remove almost all of it. It was a complete game-changer in my world.”

PocketHealth also made it easier for Garrett’s family to play an active role in his patient journey without feeling the need to call him every day to ask difficult questions about his diagnosis. Between his girlfriend and four brothers and sisters, lots of people care for him and want to help any way they can. 

“They have access to my PocketHealth and get the same notifications I do,” he says. “They can see upcoming appointments or if they’re curious about anything they can always go to PocketHealth rather than having to get a hold of me.”

Entering a positive frame of mind

Garrett’s future may have looked bleak in April but with the help of image-sharing technology like PocketHealth, he’s able to reach across borders to find a bigger world of experts who are ready, willing and able to help him in the fight of his life. 

As he begins to prepare himself mentally for surgery, his life expectancy, once measured in months, has grown right alongside his optimism. “Things look a lot more positive,” he says. “More like 10 to 15 years. I feel very fortunate.”

Garret wants other patients who are battling cancer to know they have options and the tools to take charge of their care. “I’m sure there are a lot of people like me, they get the worst-case scenario, but it’s what you make of it in life. Having access to PocketHealth definitely made life a lot easier.”

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