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Expand the Deep Brain Stimulation program for people with Parkinson's in British Columbia

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People with Parkinson’s disease in BC who are eligible for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) continue to face undue hardships and suffering due to the excessively long waitlists. The wait time for DBS in British Columbia is 3 years for an initial consult, and then a further 2 years wait for the actual surgery. In comparison, Saskatchewan with a much smaller population of 1,098,352 people has virtually no wait list and three qualified neurosurgeons; Alberta, again with a smaller population than BC, has a waitlist of six months with and two qualified neurosurgeons; and Ontario has a waitlist of two to three months.

DBS is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptoms—most commonly the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), such as tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement and walking problems. At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications.

As Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder, there is a limited window of opportunity for those who qualify to benefit from this treatment. The lengthy waitlist may result in condemning patients to a life of disability with flailing limbs, debilitating tremors, and/or the inability to move, work or lead a normal life. 

Expanding the DBS surgery program in BC will enable these people to live independently in their own homes for many more years. For a young person, it may allow them to get off of disability, go back to work and pay taxes. For older patients, it enables spouses to be released from the caregiver role, improve their own health and, if still of working age, become re-employed. Life at home may then continue instead of resulting in disability requiring long-term care and possible hospitalization as they wait for a space. The payoff for the healthcare system will be fewer hospitalizations, fewer emergency visits and avoidance of early admissions to long-term care.

To address this urgent need for improved care, we have three recommendations: 

  1. Recruit at least two additional trained neurosurgeons for BC in the immediate future and provide them with adequate operating room time. Dr. Christopher Honey has trained another neurosurgeon, Dr. Zurab Ivanishvili, who is working out of Royal Columbian Hospital doing other neurosurgeries. With support from Dr. Honey’s team, Dr. Ivanishvili could be utilized to assist with DBS surgeries. 

  2. Explore new technologies and surgical techniques to reduce operating room time from six to three hours. Furthermore, utilize existing telehealth technologies, to provide timely, and fiscally responsible, follow-up care for patients in the two to three months post-operation. We understand Saskatchewan and Ontario are utilizing this technology successfully.

  3. Engage in an immediate travel assistance program for travel to Saskatchewan, Alberta or Ontario to provide urgent surgery for those in critical condition who may otherwise miss the window of opportunity to benefit from the surgery due to disease progression. We understand DBS may already be obtained in these provinces through MSP’s Out of Province agreement with the costs billed back to BC. However, travel is prohibitively expensive for those on a limited income.

We understand that the above recommendations are no easy task; however, people with advancing Parkinson’s disease simply cannot wait five years. We need to expand the Deep Brain Stimulation now!

For further information, please visit: http://www.parkinson.bc.ca/dbs


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