NT telehealth trial has saved time, money and improved access to care

An independent evaluation of the Northern Territory's telehealth trial has recommended that the project continue and that the telehealth network be developed further until the services are embedded into routine practice.

The NT Department of Health began the trial in June 2014 to provide telehealth services to clinics in the Katherine, Barkly and Central Australian regions from hospital specialists in Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin.

Specialist appointments available include cardiac, orthopaedic, haemotology, oncology, dermatology and urology, with specialists burns services now being provided by SA Health.

In October 2014, the NT government signed a contract with Telstra Health to improve the network infrastructure as part of the wider National Telehealth Connection Service.

Telstra has worked with NT Health and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) to pilot the NTCS with the Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek and the Santa Teresa Health Centre near Alice Springs. This has provided the clinics with dedicated services that connect into NT Health's existing telehealth network.

Figures released today as part of the evaluation show that telehealth consultations have grown from about 200 a year to more than 1000 and have delivered savings of more than $1.1 million in travel costs.

Telehealth attendances in Tennant Creek had grown from 62 in 2013-14 to 519 in the trial period of July 2014 to September 2015, an increase of 737 per cent.

In Alice Springs, they have grown from 33 to 192, and from 100 to 331 in Katherine.

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles said the program had also reduced did not attend rates.

“This is a fantastic achievement and demonstrates that telehealth is delivering better health outcomes in regional and remote communities and reducing the need for patients to travel long distances to access health services,” Mr Giles said in a statement.

“It’s also helped reduce costs to the Patient Travel Assistance Scheme budget with savings estimated of at least $1.189 million on travel costs alone, while the rate of patients not attending their appointments was substantially lower than for standard hospital outpatient clinics.”

Health Minister John Elferink said an evaluation report into the telehealth trial had recommended the project continue and that the telehealth network be developed further until the services are embedded into routine practice.

“Telehealth services clearly have an important and growing role to play in ensuring more Territorians get more access to the health care they need,” he said.

“The government will now consider the recommendations of the evaluation report and look at what resources and training we need to provide to extend the use of telehealth services in the Territory.”

Trial project leader Sam Goodwin, acting executive director of medical and clinical services at the Alice Springs Hospital, said telehealth was good for patients and health professionals, and was delivering efficiencies for the health system.

“Clinicians on the frontline have summarised the telehealth pilot very nicely,” Dr Goodwin said. “'It is not often you can say that you have saved money and everyone has got really good health care for that saving, and you are not losing anything – usually when you make savings of money you have lost something’.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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