Mobile devices create 'hospitals without walls' for rural areas

The early adoption of mobile devices and other technologies in rural general practice has boosted the uptake of telehealth, but the sector needs to turn from a focus on doctors to a focus on patients and communities, a leading telehealth expert says.

Richard Murray, president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), told the Australian Telehealth Conference (ATC) in Melbourne recently that telehealth allowed the development of “hospitals without walls” in rural and remote areas, and there was a positive outlook for further growth in the industry.

“Our commitment to the development and delivery of telehealth to rural Australia has been imperative to ensuring much-needed services can be delivered locally,” Professor Murray said.

“The rise of the mobile device has meant that bridging the rural-city divide through telehealth has become easier.”

Professor Murray, dean of medicine at James Cook University (JCU) and previously medical director of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council, said mobile devices and fixed telehealth services allowed rural generalists to share knowledge, provide diagnoses and up-skill from anywhere in the world.

“Traditionally, doctors in rural and remote Australia have been the early adopters and champions of health technology,” he said. “They’ve done so out of necessity and necessity has always been the mother of invention.

“And because of this commitment to innovation and invention, Australian telehealth is at the forefront of the industry.”

However, he said there is still room for improvement and change. “We need to deliver telehealth services that are patient and community-centred rather than doctor-focused.

“The services must certainly be tailored to rural generalists by being team-based and technology-enabled, but the end game must be to provide rural communities with holistic care.

“We must consider the larger picture in order to create a ‘system of care’ that is supported by our cutting edge telehealth and eHealth services.

“If we continue along this path, but commit to patient-centred care, it will result in an authentic and useful service for our regional and remote communities.

ACRRM has released the latest statistics on the use of its web-based eHealth and telehealth resources, which include a telehealth provider directory and a telehealth technology directory.

ACRRM's statistics show that the vast majority – 89 per cent – of registered telehealth providers use Skype to conduct telehealth consultations.

Of those practitioners who used a telehealth service or organisation for consultations, most used Attend Anywhere (45 per cent), TeleHealth Solutions (39 per cent), GP2U (35 per cent), or Telemedicine Australia (33 per cent).

ACRRM's provider directory has 1099 registrants, of which 56 per cent were patient-end practitioners and 44 per cent specialist-end practitioners.

Most providers were located in Queensland (31 per cent), Victoria (26 per cent) or NSW (23 per cent).

General practice consultations were the most common service offered with 552 GPs registered, followed by surgery (104) and psychiatry (73).

Posted in Australian eHealth

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