Virtual clinic pilot sees success in Pincher Creek

U of A spinoff company launches MedROAD virtual clinic in Alberta, making long-distance health care a reality during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The MedROAD project, developed by U of A computing scientist Pierre Boulanger, is connecting more than 30 patients with physicians in a virtual clinic being piloted in the town of Pincher Creek. Boulanger says the project could help increase access to health care for Albertans living in remote communities. (Photo: John Ulan)

A new pilot project called MedROAD is bringing the power of precision health to Pincher Creek, Alberta—and seeing promising results.

MedROAD promises to be the future of telehealth, leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and cloud-based computing to remotely connect patients with health-care professionals, no matter where they are. Developed at the University of Alberta by computing scientist Pierre Boulanger, MedROAD is now a project by Naiad Lab, a spinoff company with the mission of bringing technology from the lab into our world.

“The MedROAD virtual clinic involves an exchange of medical data that is captured through our system,” explained Boulanger, professor in the Department of Computing Science and Cisco Research Chair in Healthcare Solutions. “Using an intelligent algorithm, health-care professionals can securely look at the trends in vital statistics in any particular patient—for example, moderating medication for a patient who has chronic high blood pressure.”

The pilot project in Pincher Creek, 200 kilometres south of Calgary, is connecting more than 30 patients with physicians in a medical-grade virtual clinic. Many patients are managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Tests, such as taking blood pressure and measuring glucose levels, are done remotely, either by a nurse using a kit in the patient’s home or in a remote clinic. At the same time, the patient is in contact with a primary care physician through the MedROAD multimedia platform, which allows for asynchronous communication.

Improving patient care

“This tool is designed to make the lives of doctors and patients easier,” explained Talwinder Punni, chief financial officer of Naiad Labs and Faculty of Science graduate.

“MedROAD has important economic impacts, with cost savings from reducing emergency room visits, intervening early and managing chronic care. There are also important social impacts, including providing critical and primary care services to remote communities.

“This support has the potential to make a huge difference in the quality of life for individuals, as well as the community as large.”

Punni recounted a story from a patient in Pincher Creek, who worked with a physician in real time to try a new blood pressure medication. Over a few days, the patient-physician team stayed connected through the MedROAD interface, and it became clear the medication was causing adverse effects.

The doctor was able to intervene and adjust at an early stage, avoiding a serious reaction that, if left unchecked, could have meant hospitalization,” said Punni. “This is all the more important when you realize that the nearest emergency room was a long drive.”

Punni also noted the average cost for a stay in acute care in Alberta is $8,007, and the Canadian average is $6,098.

Now, the MedROAD team is exploring new partnerships, including with remote communities and Indigenous groups. 

“This region is severely underserved in terms of health care,” said Boulanger. “MedROAD hopes to change that.”

The MedROAD project is funded by Cisco Canada and is part of a partnership with the U of A that is designed to advance research, development and innovation in technologies that improve health care and save lives.

“If it wasn’t for Cisco’s initiative, I do not think we would have had proper funding to drive the project,” explained Esmatullah Naikyar, director and CEO of Naiad Lab. 

“They have set an exceptional example of industry-funded research that enables educational institutions to advance and create spinoff companies.”

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