Telehealth in the Bush

Jodie Turvey1

 

1 South West Hospital and Health Service, Po Box 602 St George, Queensland, jodie.turvey@health.qld.gov.au

 

The South West Hospital and Health service is an innovative and diverse rural and remote region. The region expands over an area of 319 870 square km and an estimated population of 26 150. Individuals and communities located within the South West are surpassing the challenges and complexities, often faced when accessing healthcare, through the use of Telehealth.

Telehealth was first introduced in the South West in 2005-06 financial year where a total of 64 clinical consultations were provided. Progressively over time Telehealth has continued grow with 2044 consultations in 2015-16 for Non admitted patients in the South West. For us, Telehealth is simply considered as mode of delivery and should be incorporated into the provision of healthcare on a daily basis. Although Telehealth is progressively becoming an integral part of the healthcare in the bush, we are still faced with many challenges. One of the major challenges for the South West is the change management process and consultation required to enable medical specialist services to be provided via Telehealth. For services that have been identified as appropriate for Telehealth, there is a significant consultation process required. This is predominately due to most medical specialist services being provided from outside our Health Service. It is often challenging to get vital key stakeholders together to discuss and then to understand the importance and the significant positive impact that providing Telehealth consultations can have on individuals, communities, and rural or remote healthcare services. This challenge is also seen at times when dealing with existing services within the South West.

Over time the South West has had numerous lessons learnt. One of the most significant lessons learnt to date is to understand the level of involvement, approval, and interaction that is required from key stakeholders from the providing Hospital and Health Service. Lack of understanding of the level of consultation can detrimentally effect and prolong the establishment of services. Communication and networking is pivotal when engaging and consulting with services. The Telehealth Co-ordinator role has evolved and we now have a strong Telehealth network that has been established with fellow Co-ordinators and the Telehealth Support Unit. Many of the success stories in Queensland are attributable to this strong network.

As Telehealth expands, we continue to investigate clinical opportunities for implementing Telehealth. South West is unique in that we currently have eight medical practices in addition to our 17 facilities. At present we are expanding the scope of practice by enabling Telehealth to be provided into these practices. This is being achieved through the purchasing of Telehealth enabled clinical devices and software.

Telehealth is a mode of healthcare delivery which is assisting individuals and communities within the South West. The future and possibilities of Telehealth looks promising.