PAH gets serious about telehealth

Written by Kate McDonald on .

A dedicated telehealth centre has been officially opened at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital to provide telehealth services to patients in rural and remote Queensland.

The centre is part of the $5.1 million Princess Alexandra Hospital Online Outreach Services (PAH Online) project, which is jointly funded by the federal and state governments under the Digital Regions Initiative program.

The facility is already delivering specialist services in the areas of cardiology, endocrinology, dermatology and geriatrics, with plans to extend these services into orthopaedics, infectious diseases and oncology. It has the capacity to conduct at least five thousand assessments annually.

Len Gray, a PAH geriatrician and director of the University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health, which helped to design the new centre, said telehealth services for Queenslanders had been provided from Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital for over a decade, but the new centre showed PAH was now getting serious about telehealth.

Professor Gray said the centre was situated in the middle of the hospital and had been outfitted with high quality sound, lighting and video conferencing technology to enable clinical telehealth provision.

Specialists will be able to conduct clinics for groups of patients at one regional hospital or they could also see patients at several hospitals in one session.

“Ideally, for things that are not emergencies, it is better to organise it just like any doctor's clinic,” Professor Gray said. “The easiest thing to do is, for example, the diabetes specialist here would do a clinic in Mt Isa once every couple of weeks, so all of the diabetics would be booked in at Mt Isa to come into the clinic there and the specialist would see them.

“When you start going to smaller communities, where there aren’t enough patients to fill a clinic session, the clinic could comprise consultations from several locations. It is important to have everyone organised, just like in any standard doctor's clinic.”

He said PAH was also seriously looking at how to extend the service to general practices in rural and regional areas. “It is clearly one of the ideal things, to connect from the hospital straight into the general practice surgery. We do a little bit of that already and we have some projects planned for the new year where we are seriously going to sit down and try to make this work so the hospital connects to general practices on a broader scale.”

He said the biggest challenge in expanding telehealth services was now not so much technology, but rather more mundane issues like organisation and funding.

“Who is going to pay, can it be done through Medicare or is the hospital at the other end going to pay? Now that we've got the technology sorted out and the right environment, they are now our big challenges – to sort out protocols and administrative arrangements.”

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