Broadband Telehealth Services in Australia

Healthy mealOne of the challenges of Australia is that it is a large area but with a very small population which means that many people are very far flung. In particularly, elders, those living with terminal or at least difficult diseases and those requiring palliative care have a hard time traversing distances to reach a good doctor. This leads to a decrease in the quality of care received. for this reason, the Australian government has created a National Broadband Network which will deliver high speed broadband communications between healthcare providers and patients. It’s only a pilot project, but in July, it’s set to take off.

This service is being supported by a $36 billion NBN roll-out with an eye towards offering easily accessible broadband to homes, surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, senior’s centers and anyone anywhere else who could benefit from it. Having a fast, reliable broadband service will neatly get rid of, or at least diminish, the effects of barriers found in the Australian healthcare system, the major one being the distances involved! It will also help to manage time and cost which patients normally have to put into seeing their doctor, saving everyone money and time. Once operational and ready to go, this service will revolutionize the way that healthcare is delivered, bringing instant assistance wherever it is needed most. Said Senator Stephen Conroy:

“This trial will make a real difference to the lives of patients with high health care needs…. particularly those in regional, rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas…”

The framework for such a system has already been in place for a while. Videoconferencing between some doctors and patients makes it easier to receive care and consultation and when, in 2011, Medicare rebates for telehealth were introduced, the number of people taking advantage of it skyrocketed. As of early this year with only this framework, over 7,000 services were provided by over 1,200 doctors nationally, serving the most rural and remote parts of Australia that would otherwise have a hard time receiving healthcare. With a national system in place, the numbers will jump even higher.

Expansion of this framework will include:

-Health indicators handled remotely, letting doctors get information like blood pressure count
-More detailed consultations, including personalized programs delivered right to the patient’s inbox
-Tracking of problems, conditions, and treatments
-Cutting edge information about prescription drugs delivered right to the patient, along with doctor recommendations

And of course whatever else the doctor can manage! Of course there will be challenges inherent in an undertaking like this, but with the proper planning and care, they are far from insurmountable.

The new telehealth system has the potential to deliver life saving information and assistance even to the most far flung of patients. In Australia, this is an important piece of technology to work with because of the sparse and widespread populace, much of it aging. And if it works in Australia, it could be transferred to other countries as well, such as Canada which has much the same problem in vast areas of the countries. We’ll be looking out for it in July 2012!