Grants still being decided for NBN-enabled telehealth program
Several contracts for the winning bids under the federal government's $20.6 million NBN-enabled Telehealth Pilots Program are still being negotiated, more than a year after the initiative was announced.
A joint initiative between the departments of communications and health, the program was announced in January 2012, with funding expected to flow from July 1.
The program has a particular focus on aged care, palliative care and cancer care, and aims to generate a better understanding of barriers to the adoption of telehealth services in the home, with an emphasis on those in regional, remote and outer metropolitan areas.
Draft program guidelines were released in January 2012 for consultation, with final guidelines released when calls for proposals opened in April. The closing date for applications for funding was May 17, with successful applicants expected to commence service provision from July 1, 2012. Successful grants were expected to be announced in June.
However, at a recent Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra, the Department of Health and Ageing said it was unable to provide any details of what the successful projects entailed, as all contracts had not yet been signed.
Linda Powell, first assistant secretary for eHealth change and adoption in DoHA's eHealth division, told the hearing that while some of the projects were already up and running, no details on them could be released as the exact number of grants had not been finalised.
“There are a number of grants for that program that are still being negotiated around the contract, so the number of grants is not finalised,” Ms Powell said. “Obviously we need to get all of the grants lined up before we can go forward on them.
“But a number of grants have begun and they will be announced when the contracts are finalised for the remainder of them.”
Ms Powell said seven grants had been successful and funding provided, but could not reveal what the trials actually involved.
“The grants were to pilot a range of telehealth activities,” she said. “So they might involve, for example, targeting elderly people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders or people with chronic disease typically in their home with a range of different technologies often involving remote consultations or consultations with doctors, nurses and other allied health providers.”
In relation to aged care, she said some of the trials involved continuous self-monitoring that is fed back to a central area, intermittent home monitoring and remote consultation.
She also could not provide the amount of money each grant involved, as “that would then provide information that may get tied up in ongoing negotiations”.
DoHA deputy secretary Rosemary Huxtable said a number of the projects had been “finalised and executed, but there will not be an announcement until all of them have been finalised, which should be fairly shortly".
In its guidelines to applicants, the government said it expected the amount of funding provided for individual pilots to be around $1 million to $3 million.
“Higher levels of funding may be available for pilot projects that are able to demonstrate exceptional prospective benefits,” the guidelines state.
Funding can be used for a number of capital and infrastructure purposes, including equipment such as telehealth monitors, tablet devices or computers, the cost of access to broadband internet services and the initial establishment of secure networks, licensing software and patient internet access.
Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek said at the announcement last year that the program would provide eligible participants in NBN early roll-out areas a range of innovative services.
“These will include having health indicators monitored remotely – for instance, your doctor being able to take your blood pressure online while you are at home – or receiving medical consultations and healthy living support in the home.”
Minister for Ageing Mark Butler said that older Australians would stand to gain the most from the boost to telehealth services.
“Expanding telehealth services to older Australians still living in their own homes will help health professionals identify potential health problems earlier, reduce the need for older Australians to travel to receive treatment and increase access to healthcare services and specialists,” he said.
Posted in Aged Care