Telehealth became a point of focus on the Sunshine Coast in January 2014. It aims to provide care locally to people in rural areas using a live video stream where a patient can talk directly to a medical consultant without leaving their community.
“Being able to receive a palliative care or urology consultation in your own home or nearby centre is valuable for those who are ill.”
There are several Queensland Health centres across the health district which are equipped to deliver Telehealth across 27 specialties using high tech equipment such digital stethoscopes, dental probes and clinical level microphones that can hear people breathing.
In the last 12 months 580 people across the region have accessed Telehealth and consulted with a doctor in their own home or nearby centre via video streaming.
“Being able to receive a palliative care or urology consultation in your own home or nearby centre is valuable for those who are ill,” says Amy Holmes, Telehealth Coordinator for the Sunshine Coast.
“For example, if we have a patient in Gympie who needs to see a cardiologist at Nambour Hospital, they might be too unwell to come in for appointment. A patient not attending their appointment therefore impacts heavily on our wait list; we might not be able to fill that appointment if we don’t receive any advance warning, or we might not have enough time to fill that appointment.”
How does Telehealth work?
Medical consultants are located at Nambour Hospital, providing video conference calls across multiple specialties using a computer and web camera.
If patient has a computer in their own home, they are provided with software they can download to access the Telehealth service. If a patient doesn’t have internet access or isn’t comfortable using a PC, they can visit their nearest hospital or health centre. This model is also extended to GPs to use in their general practice.
“The services we provide are clinically appropriate to be delivered by Telehealth. For example, each consultation conducted via Telehealth has been deemed clinically appropriate by a clinician. This ensures we offer a service that is at the same standard as a face to face service.
“Unfortunately not all services are able to be provided using Telehealth due to the intricacies of what is provided during the consultation. One such service is our eye clinic, which uses specialised scopes and cameras which cannot be replicated by Telehealth.”
Amy says new patients are offered a face-to-face consultation first to meet their consultant, discuss their care and options for future Telehealth involvement.
“Further consultations are provided via Telehealth as the patient has already established a connection with their consultant. However, Telehealth is a choice and patients can choose between Telehealth and face-to-face appointments.”
What are the benefits of Telehealth?
“GPs will soon be able to promote themselves as a Telehealth-enabled doctor, allowing patients to have a direct video link with a consultant from their GP’s office to discuss issues and treatment, therefore providing a full circle of care."
- Improve access to health services locally
- Reduce patient travel and costs
- Reduce time away from home
- Reduce making lengthy family or day care arrangements
- Reduce taking extended amounts of time off work to attend appointments.
How will health services evolve over the next five years?
Queensland Health’s vision is to embed Telehealth into everyday services as an accepted and supported enabler of health care for all Queenslanders.
“While it’s currently only a small business on the Sunshine Coast, it’s significantly growing. With the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital being developed at Kawana, we’re establishing digital infrastructure there to ensure it’s equipped with Telehealth when it opens,” Amy said.
“We have to ensure we can deliver health services to patients in a timely manner and prepare for the future by reviewing the need for patients to travel for medical consultations.”
Amy says Telehealth is a positive step in the right direction, as patients are already asking for this service.
“We currently receive about 50 enquiries per day through word of mouth or brochures available in waiting rooms, such as urology, which is a strong Telehealth service.
“We’re looking at expanding the Telehealth service to broader community over the next 12 months once we get providers and key players on board.”
Amy says General Practitioners are also set to see much digital change in their area over the next few years.
“GPs will soon be able to promote themselves as a Telehealth-enabled doctor, allowing patients to have a direct video link with a consultant from their GP’s office to discuss issues and treatment, therefore providing a full circle of care.
“We’re working closely with Medicare Local who is helping spread our message through GPs in regard to accessing Queensland Health’s integrated software platform, webcam information, and licences.
“The software platform used incorporates digital security. When discussing medical matters on the internet we want to ensure that it’s secure and information is not stored anywhere, just like a phone call,” she said.
For more information visit www.health.qld.gov.au/telehealth
IMAGE: Dr Prem Ram provides Telehealth consultations.