ACRRM agrees in principle to share telehealth data with NHSD

The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) has agreed in principle to work with the operators of the National Health Services Directory to consider a direct feed of provider information from the ACRRM Telehealth Provider Directory into the NHSD.

While the details of the agreement are still being worked out, it is hoped that by sharing information, telehealth providers and Medicare Locals will not have to double up on their information, the college's strategic programs manager for eHealth, Vicki Sheedy, said.

The main detail to be worked out is how to pay for the work associated with the transfer of data and renegotiating the consent processes, she said. ACRRM proposed the establishment of a national telehealth provider directory in 2011 and the project was funded by DoHA.

“It remains the first and most comprehensive non-commercial directory of telehealth services available in Australia,” Ms Sheedy said.

“ACRRM owns the IP for this directory, and we are committed to maintaining our directory as a comprehensive source of information regarding telehealth-enabled providers. However, we are prepared in principle to share this information with other directories, including the NHSD.

“The ACRRM directory is already publicly available, however the costs for establishing data transfer arrangements and renegotiating governance and consent arrangements to populate the NHSD will need to be covered.”

Ms Sheedy said that for a telehealth directory to work effectively, it needs more than just a listing of specialists, nurses, Aboriginal health workers, midwives or GPs who offer telehealth services.

“Clinicians need to be able to find out what technology the other party is using to enable them to establish a telehealth connection. Interoperability remains a major issue to the delivery of telehealth services.”

In addition to the provider directory, ACRRM has also developed a telehealth technology directory which has a thriving list of equipment suppliers as well as a separate list of facilitated telehealth solutions.

According to the most recent statistics from those using these services, the most popular is the not-for-profit Telehealth Solutions Australia, followed by GP2U and Attend Anywhere.

The most popular technology used is still overwhelmingly Skype, but Ms Sheedy said it was becoming apparent that many organisations providing routine telehealth consultations were using Skype as well as more dedicated telehealth solutions.

“Even though 84 per cent of people on the directory are using Skype, they are not just using Skype,” she said.

“What we are finding is that Skype is a default solution, but those providing higher volumes of telehealth services are also using more dedicated telehealth health systems. Many still use Skype where required as there are specialists and GPs who are only using Skype.”

She said clinicians are making “fit for purpose” decisions regarding the benefits of providing telehealth consultations, and often this involves mitigating risks when using Skype. The ACRRM has prepared a monograph on this issue to assist clinicians providing telehealth services.

After Skype, ACRRM statistics show that the second most popular technology is Vidyo, followed by GoToMeeting and Cisco's Jabber. Ms Sheedy said one of the reasons the latter was becoming more popular was that it was able to “speak” to Queensland Health's network.

Queenslanders made up the majority of clinicians listed on the College's provider directory, followed by Victoria and NSW. Ms Sheedy conjectured that as Queensland has a long history of supporting telehealth with many regional, rural and remote centres using the technology, GPs with admitting rights to hospitals in these centres and specialists supporting these services would be more familiar with the concept of telehealth.

The ACRRM has also been collecting statistics on the providers listed on its directory, and what specialties GPs and nurses are looking to connect with. The directory has 750 telehealth clinicians listed at present and the list is increasing exponentially, she said, supported by the work the ACRRM is doing with the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation in developing educational modules.

Psychiatry is the most sought-after discipline for GPs wanting to connect to specialists, followed by dermatology, neurology and cardiology.

“The largest group listed by discipline, apart from GPs, is surgery,” Ms Sheedy said. “That probably reflects our collaboration with the College of Surgeons.”

After general practice and surgery, the largest user groups are psychiatry, endocrinology and dermatology. Nurses are also increasingly registering, Ms Sheedy said.

“There are practice nurses who act as the GP delegates but there are also nurse practitioners who can bill in their own right. They can do their own referrals and they of course need to find a specialist to do a telehealth conference with.”

The majority of people who register on the ACRRM's website and ask for assistance from the college are looking for help with contacting a specialist offering telehealth services, she said.

ACRRM stats also show they are looking for help on setting up a telehealth service for patients, advice on purchasing suitable video conferencing equipment or solutions, and evaluations on existing equipment of solutions.

This year, the college will also revise and expand the equipment directory to include information on peripherals, she said.

“These are things that you plug in to your equipment like digital otoscopes, oroscopes and stethoscopes. We will be including information on how to use the plug-ins and what sort of equipment they are compatible with.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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