COH expands clinical telehealth training

Written by Kate McDonald on .

The University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health (COH) has introduced a new graduate certificate in clinical telehealth, aiming to equip current and future healthcare professionals to use telehealth in practice.

The new clinical telehealth program is an addition to the COH’s ongoing education and training activities, which include postgraduate and undergraduate level courses in eHealth.

Graduates of these programs are increasingly finding jobs in eHealth, COH research has found. COH researcher Sisira Edirippulige said a recent survey showed that 83 per cent of UQ eHealth graduates believe their qualification advanced their careers in telehealth, which is one of the most rapidly rising areas in the sector today.

The survey showed that 77 per cent of graduates had worked in eHealth-related jobs since graduation. The findings were published in the December 3 2012 issue of the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.

“We have been running education as a component of the Centre for Online Health for over 10 years now,” Dr Edirippulige said. “This is a research-focused centre but from the very outset we identified that we would be teaching and providing education and training as well.”

The centre has well-established research programs in paediatric and geriatric telemedicine, and recently received a grant of almost $1 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council to conduct a four-year study into the use of telehealth in residential aged care facilities, involving a web-based clinical support system and clinical-grade video conferencing technology.

Dr Edirippulige said most of the postgraduate students came from a clinical background such as medicine, nursing or allied health, and most of the undergraduate students had a health background. A reasonable percentage, however, were studying IT or business as well.

The aim of the courses is not just to study the theoretical aspects of technology in healthcare, but also the different technology solutions and types of eHealth used in clinical practice.

“We pay attention to the evidence base for best practice and we talk about the logistics of establishing telehealth and eHealth services, including coordinating functions, technology, room setting to give some examples,” he said.

“Students also learn about the ethical and legal aspects relating to delivering health care using telehealth. Clinical guidelines, reimbursement and evaluation of telehealth services are some of the other important issues discussed in the courses.”

The survey showed that about half of the graduates are working in clinical practice – as GPs, nurses or allied health professionals – and they were interested in learning about eHealth in order to practice, he said.

“We asked them how the eHealth qualification or education had influenced their practice, and a lot mentioned that they practice eHealth in their routine work.

“Interestingly, a number of students found jobs in eHealth after completing the graduate program – they were able to find jobs either as a telehealth project officer or coordinator after completing their education. One international student is running the national telehealth program in her country, which is very impressive.”

Funding for the clinical telehealth courses has come from the federal government, which granted the COH $1.3 million in 2011 as part of its telehealth initiative.

“The Department of Health and Ageing saw that it was important to develop and deliver clinically focused postgraduate and undergraduate level electives and a series of CPD courses for practicing and future health workers,” Dr Edirippulige said.

Clinical telehealth has a different focus to other eHealth and health informatics courses, he said. “The clinical telehealth program will look at the delivery of healthcare using technology – it is mainly for clinical practice. We will provide a series of case studies and demos on how clinicians can practice telehealth using technology, both in real time as well as store and forward.

“Clinical telehealth postgraduate and undergraduate courses include a series of topics relating to practising telehealth for providing health care services. However, the CPD programs look at very concise and concrete aspects of telehealth relevant to practising clinicians.

“We've found that courses in eHealth and clinical telehealth offer excellent development opportunities across a range of disciplines, such as rehabilitation science, nursing, psychiatry, as well as traditional medicine.”

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