Innovative telehealth technology removing barriers for rural patients in Tasmania

Launceston 07 May 2009Innovative technology is helping break down the barriers of distance and isolation for patients living in rural and regional Tasmania. Health Minister Lara Giddings visited Agfest, an event organised by the Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania, to view the display of technology being trialled or investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in partnership with Telstra. Ms. Giddings said there was no better place to showcase the technology than at Agfest, where thousands of visitors would be interested in learning how their health care experience could be made easier.

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"The DHHS Telehealth team is looking at a wide range of technologies to connect communities with health professionals located many kilometres away", Ms. Giddings stated. "This technology is breaking down the barriers of isolation and distance. It is also about reducing the need for people living outside of Tasmania's main cities to travel for specialist services. This type of innovation is a perfect example of the future for health care envisaged in Tasmania's Health Plan."

Two telehealth technologies are being showcased at Agfest - the Mobile Phone Telehealth Solution and the In the home Telecare Solution.

Ms. Giddings said that ground-breaking mobile phone technology will be trialled in the Central Highlands and Derwent Valley. "This involves using mobile phones for video conferencing during home visits by community nurses."

"The nurses visually link up with other members of the client's health care team - as many as six additional health professionals can be involved in the conference from anywhere around the State. All the health professionals can see and speak with each other as if the whole team is actually in the client's home", Ms. Giddings explained.

"This saves both the patient and members of the health care team from unnecessary travel. The home consultation is bolstered by a DHHS vehicle fitted out with additional Next G and WiFi aerials, as well as a Next G router. This brings the added benefit of boosting broadband connectivity for Tasmanians living in rural and remote areas", Ms. Giddings stated.

Ms. Giddings said another exciting development is a unit which can be installed in a client's home to collect and transmit important health data. "The information collected ranges from weight, temperature to blood glucose levels and it can be transmitted back to a General Practitioner or nurse in another location."

"If vital signs are not what they should be an alert is triggered and health professionals know it is time to make contact with the patient. This technology is exciting because it gives the patient a chance to have more power over the management of their own health", Ms. Giddings stated.

Ms. Giddings said the recent expansion and upgrade of the Tasmanian Telehealth Outreach Network - from 40 video conference points to 120 - would also boost health services to rural and isolated areas. "The Telehealth links are located in the major public hospitals, rural hospitals and community health centres around Tasmania", Ms. Giddings stated.

Other examples of how DHHS staff are using these technologies to eliminate geographical challenges associated with service delivery include:

  • Specialist advice: Health professionals in rural and remote communities can now use the Telehealth Network to consult with specialist and emergency staff located in major hospitals when faced with health situations that require additional expertise. Remote visual assessments of clients can be made to ensure all possible expertise is engaged in the treatment.
  • Professional development: Health service professionals located in rural and remote areas now have the opportunity to continue their professional development using the Network, keeping up to date with the latest treatment practices.

While developed specifically to increase access to a wider range of health services for Tasmanians living in rural and remote parts, the Telehealth Network is also available for use by not-for-profit organisations as a community service.


Source: Tasmanian Government

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