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Taking telehealth mainstream


Telehealth in NSW is set to be incorporated across all settings from hospitals to homes in a shift away from small-scale pilots to integration with mainstream services, the state’s health minister has announced.

Jillian Skinner

Jillian Skinner

NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner told the Australian Telehealth Conference yesterday that the importance of telehealth could not be understated and technology was key to a sustainable health system of the future.

She said the state’s 10-year eHealth strategy, which was due for release within weeks, provided for a continued focus on supporting integrated care for patients through initiatives such as care plans, remote patient monitoring, patient reported measures and telehealth, and was aligned with the Telehealth Framework and Implementation Strategy 2016-2021.

“This strategy provides a system which by telehealth will be sustainably incorporated into the patient care across the state in a variety of settings including hospitals, primary health care, aged care, allied health and community settings and in consumers’ homes.

“It signifies a shift away from small-scale pilots – I know that is a topic of particular interest of this conference – and variable uptake across the state to an era in which telehealth is a regular part of service design and innovation in healthcare delivery,” Ms Skinner told the conference.

Ms Skinner said the importance of telehealth could not be understated – it complemented face-to-face consultation, reduced travel time and improved access to specialists and advice. It was particularly important for addressing challenges of distance for rural and remote communities, she said.

“It brings the care closer to home for patients and also provides support for isolated clinicians,” she said.

In-home patient monitoring, real-time video and data streaming, and telehealth based regional-based staff training were just some of the innovations already used to support people throughout NSW, Ms Skinner said, though the possibilities to deliver the highest quality patient-centred care were huge.

NSW Health was now looking at telehealth applications that empowered patients to be more involved in their own care across many settings including primary, community, and acute care, and that integrated with social care sectors, such as aged care and the disability sector, she said.

“We are also looking at investing in telehealth technologies such as physio consulting, and biometric monitoring, which present newer opportunities for clinicians to remotely monitor patients who are unable to attend face-to-face consultations.”

Momentum was building

Ms Skinner said the battle to convince all clinicians of the value of digital systems, electronic records and telehealth “has partly been won” and clinicians very typically willing to embrace e-health generally and telehealth in particular.

While the progress of telehealth had been slow to start, like a lot of new innovative programs it was now catching on, she said.

“The challenge has been keeping up with the hardware, making sure that we have the capacity for people to use the technologies and the training and so on. But the more we do it the more people adopt it and the better we get at it. It develops a momentum of its own.”

She said government must also continue to fund it to ensure ongoing progression, which was the other challenge.

“When you build a hospital, you see a building. When you build a network that enables people to be linked it is much more difficult to describe to treasury officials who want to know where the dollars are going [and] show people the difference it makes.”

The Australian Telehealth Conference continues in Sydney today. Follow AAA’s tweet reporting @AustAgeAgenda

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