Australian telehealth: more pilots than Qantas

Building for the future is the topic of the Australian Telehealth Conference (ATC 2014) in Melbourne next month, with the sustainability of Australia's approach to conducting telehealth pilot projects under the microscope.

The description of telehealth in Australia as having “more pilots than Qantas” is understood to have originated with telehealth expert Victoria Wade, clinical director of Adelaide UniCare E-Health. Dr Wade will discuss sustainability and vulnerability in Australian telehealth services at the conference, which is being held on March 19 and 20 at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Organised by seven healthcare organisations – the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA), the Australasian Telehealth Society (ATHS), the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), the Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA), the Health Information Management Association of Australia (HIMAA) and Australian Medicare Local Alliance (AMLA) – it will cover all aspects of telehealth in Australia.

Key topics include models of shared care, mHealth, the Australian Telehealth Strategy, rural and remote telehealth, telehealthcare in community care, aged care and care in the home, the transforming role of telehealth, and how connectivity has transformed the delivery of healthcare.

International speakers include Danny Sands, co-founder and co-chair of the US-based Society for Participatory Medicine, along with the chief consultant for telehealth services at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Adam Darkins, who will discuss how the DVA has gone about making the home and local community the preferred place of care.

This is an expanding field of in Australia as the population ages and the cost of institutional care rises. Speakers from two organisations that are investing heavily in telehealth in aged care and the community – aged care provider Feros Care and community nursing provider RDNS – will discuss new models of support for these sectors.

Feros Care’s CEO Jennene Buckley will discuss new support models for telehealth in aged care. Her organisation, which provides residential, day and respite care as well in-home respite and community care services in Queensland and NSW, has invested heavily in telehealth and eHealth for its disparate services.

Feros Care is currently undertaking two federally funded trials, including the Technology Enabled Multidisciplinary Care Advisory Service (TEMCAS) pilot, which is using wireless and high-definition devices at three of Feros Care’s residential aged care facilities in northern NSW.

The other, called the My Health Clinic at Home project, is aimed at seniors with chronic illnesses living in Coffs Harbour. This $2.8 million pilot is looking at new ways to use the NBN in healthcare and involves a touchscreen device with in-built video camera and peripheral devices to monitor health and wellness at home.

One of the aims is to see if it is financially sustainable in the long term. While the results aren’t available yet, Feros Care’s statistics are showing that it is a viable solution simply in terms of time saved for nurses having to travel to each home.

This is an area that is also being explored by RDNS, which has been running a trial of Intel’s Home Guide device to manage medications for older people in their homes. The organisation is now looking for a new technology following Intel’s decision to withdraw the product from sale in Australia, but is confident that a viable replacement can be found.

The trial has been running since May 2012 and has won several awards. It is currently being evaluated by La Trobe University, but RDNS is keen for it to continue.

The trial involves a daily video conference through the device with clients in their home, in which they are prompted to take their medications. A nurse at the RDNS call centre in Melbourne observes the client as they take their meds, and checks the medications pack to ensure it is correct.

Stelvio Vido, executive general manager for projects and business development with RDNS, will outline the project at ATC 2014.

Rural and remote telehealth

In addition to a keynote speech on rural perspectives on telehealth from ACRRM president Richard Murray, a Q&A panel on models of shared care and the provision of telehealth in rural and remote areas will be staged, featuring Queensland GP Ewen McPhee, medical oncologist Sabe Sabesan, Royal Perth Hospital clinical nurse consultant Beth Sperring, and Angus Turner, director of Lions Outback Vision.

Associate Professor Sabesan was able to show in published research last year that the Townsville Cancer Centre’s tele-oncology service has achieved net savings through major reductions in travel costs for patients and specialists, which can then be redirected into enhancing rural health resources.

Dr McPhee is a high-profile advocate of telehealth in the primary care sector in rural Australia, and has worked closely with the Queensland Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, and Queensland Health to develop a four-year, $31 million rural telehealth service for the whole state that aims to embed telehealth provision in all hospital and health services as well as in primary care.

In August last year, Mr Springborg announced seven evaluation sites for the service, which will use existing and underused infrastructure to improve telehealth provision to people in rural and remote areas of the state.

Mr Springborg told the Rural Medicine Conference in Cairns last year that there was an excellent telehealth network already available in Queensland, and he paid tribute to his predecessors as health ministers for having put it in place. However, he said it was underused and clinicians were not confident it was being supported, something he aims to change.

“From my perspective, what is most important now is to ensure that we invest in the uptake and provide patients and clinicians with the surety that it is going to be reliable,” Mr Springborg said.

“That is why we have invested $31 million over four years to ensure that we put in place the coordination processes and that there is confidence that is going to be reliable. We are about supercharging it, and that’s what we want to do.”

Dr McPhee told the conference that the telehealth having more pilots than Qantas pun was appropriate, so it was about about time it started to take off.

“We know it works but the problem is there is low uptake, fragmented services, and a lack of sustainability,” Dr McPhee said.

“Our vision is that we are going to be embed telehealth in everyday care. It is going to be the way we do business. We are going to design a telehealth system for the whole health service, not just Queensland Health, not just private enterprise.

“If we want to give access to every primary care clinic – whether it is the Flying Doctors Service, whether it’s a bush clinic or my practice in Emerald – we have to embed this into every general practice and hospital in Queensland. It’s a challenge but I think we can do it.”

For an overview of a number of telehealth projects in Australia, see the February issue of Pulse+IT, available shortly.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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