Telstra to launch direct-to-GP, 24-hour telehealth service

Telstra Health has announced a joint venture with Swiss company Medgate to establish a new telehealth service called Telstra ReadyCare in which patients can consult directly with GPs over the phone or by video conference 24 hours a day.

Telstra also announced it was partnering with the Northern Territory government to build a National Telehealth Connection Service, including scheduling capabilities, that will initially provide telemedicine services to deliver health services to people in remote communities with the potential in future to be offered nationwide.

The new ReadyCare service could work with other services such as the nurse-led hotlines provided by Healthdirect Australia, which is funded by the state governments. Healthdirect has been investigating adding video conferencing to its service portfolio, including the potential to use WebRTC. There is also the potential in the future for GP to patient services to be MBS-funded.

Telstra Health managing director Shane Solomon said that while there were a number of options for funding the service, including offering it through private companies for employee healthcare, partnering with health insurers and offering it eventually to GPs in private practice, the full details had not yet been worked out.

Telstra's group executive for retail, Gordon Ballantyne, said ReadyCare would involve employing GPs to do the consultations. One major point of difference is that ReadyCare will be able to offer online diagnostic services, electronic prescriptions and specialist referrals as well as advice.

Medgate has been providing telemedicine services in Switzerland for 13 years, with a central Medgate Telemedicine Service providing telephone and video consultations for minor ailments. It has developed an app that allows patients to take a photo of skin conditions, for example, and send them to a Medgate doctor, and it also allows patients to order medications.

It also has a partner network that allows patients to access high-definition video consultations with a Medgate doctor in their local pharmacy. Services are paid for by health insurance.

While it is still early stages yet, Mr Solomon said he envisaged Telstra ReadyCare would become a national service that would complement the services GPs deliver. As with medical deputising services, notifications of any consultations done with a ReadyCare doctor will be communicated to the patient's regular GP.

He also said the service could be offered to GPs to use as their telehealth platform in their own practice. The platform includes telemedicine-specific call management, forecasting and demand management, productivity, patient management software, protocols and performance management.

For the National Telehealth Connection Service, Telstra has been working with the Northern Territory Department of Health, which was chosen by the National Health CIO Forum to lead the development of the service.

It will involve coordinating clinical-grade video conferencing and scheduling services with metropolitan specialists initially for Aboriginal health and people living in remote communities. Building on the NT's existing infrastructure, the service is already operating in community health centres in Tennant Creek and Santa Teresa, an Arrernte indigenous community near Alice Springs.

The plan is to eventually offer it for specialist consultations to rural areas on a nationwide scale.

Telstra Health also announced that the in-home monitoring platform it has been building with RDNS in Victoria has been chosen by Silver Chain, Western Australia's visiting nursing service, for its hospital in the home and specialist nursing care services.

Mr Ballantyne said it would involve hospital medical staff having access to a secure portal to keep track of the services provided by Silver Chain and remotely monitor changes in the patient's condition.

At the launch of the three new services in Sydney today, Telstra revealed that it had invested $100 million in its health division over the last year. This includes acquisitions and partnerships such as those with Fred IT, HealthConnex, HealthEngine and Verdi.

It has also invested in the UK's Dr Foster as part of its health analytics and big data division, which prominent neurosurgeon Adrian Nowitzke is heading up.

Mr Solomon said Telstra's move into the healthcare sector was about using technology and connectivity to tackle mainstream health system issues, predominantly at the chronic illness rather than acute end of the sector.

“We are determined not just to buy products and flog them,” he said.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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