By Yasmin Noone
Allied health provider, HealthStrong, has just launched a new subsidiary telehealth service company to provide remote video conferencing consultations to isolated residential aged care service providers.
The new telehealth company, TeleStrong, officially took flight just prior to Christmas 2012, with its new remote allied health services currently being trialled at a test site on the NSW Central Coast.
At the moment, three key allied health services are being offered remotely to the residential aged care provider: physiotherapy, dietetics and diversional therapy.
The trial will last for a total of two months, before the participating provider decides whether to roll onto a long-term plan, and TeleStrong connects other facilities.
Operations manager of TeleStrong, Tiffany Chaisson, explained that although the company plans to mostly provide software packages for participating facilities, as well as allied health services however if need be, it will also include a hardware package.
“The telehealth consultation is offered through a dedicated cloud and a high-end, high definition conference link,” Ms Chaisson said.
“It balances the bandwidth, between with the connection the facility has available and the connection we have. It strikes a balance so that the picture is balanced at either end.”
Skype was not selected as the video conferencing means, according to Ms Chaisson, because “we felt we needed the connection to be at a higher end and to be more secure. We also needed something a bit stable with less drop-outs”.
The cost of the service will vary according to the participating facilities, she said, with some receiving a federal government rebate for the telehealth consultations and others absorbing the associated fees.
HealthStrong has also confirmed that it is also working on a community-care version of a TeleStrong called CareStrong, which will deliver allied health video consultations for community care workers, associated health professionals and older people living in their own home.
A common-sense response
Ms Chaisson said the telehealth initiative seemed like a “common sense” step forward, given the workforce pressures that rural and remote providers currently face and federal government plans to rollout the National Broadband Network.
“There are not enough allied health practitioners out there to match the need for services,” she said, “especially in rural and remote locations.
“We’ve got facilities constantly saying to us: ‘We would like…We need…Do you have someone to do…’ and replying constantly, saying no is not good.
“So senior management said, ‘What can we do to fix this?’
“The government is rolling out the NBN and pushing telehealth so we thought, ‘What can we do to try and improve services for facilities that are a little bit further away?”
TeleStrong, she concluded, was the obvious answer.
“However, we have found that the biggest hindrance to telehealth consultations in the industry is behaviour change.
“Everyone thinks it is a good idea but while some facilities which are market leaders are geared up and [ready to try it]. But others say ‘our nurses won’t know how to turn the computer on’.”
Regardless, Ms Chaisson said she is hopeful that the new initiative will take off.
She said the company plans to expand its telehealth capabilities in the near future to “improve the lives of residents, whether it’s through the provision of remote physiotherapy, diatetics, speech pathology, remote wound care management or remote palliative care programs and services”.
“I don’t want to see any resident put at a disadvantage [in terms of accessing services] just because they live in a rural area.
“I think everyone should be access what they need from wherever they live.”
HealthStrong currently supplies allied health services to more than 700 residential aged care facilities throughout the country, and has around 100-plus allied health practitioners on its books.
Self-described as a “one-stop allied health service provider dedicated to excellence in aged care”, prior to 2012, the company was formally known throughout the sector as Clinicall.
Clinicall, which changed its name last year, has been operating for more than a decade.