By Paul Hemsley
Federal Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy has announced that the federal government will fund nine telehealth projects that will use the National Broadband Network (NBN) to improve telecommunications between doctors and patients.
Telehealth is a technological application between medical professionals and patients that allows easier communications between all parties, which has been an important development to address the problems in remote areas of Australia where patients are not necessarily in the vicinity of a medical specialist.
This problem has swelled in recent years because of a nationwide doctor shortage that has been troubling the regions as medical students who go on to become doctors have been opting to only practice in more populated metropolitan areas.
It is a technology that has been on the upturn since the initial rollout of the NBN as the funding announcement to 50 communities connected to the NBN is expected to reach 2,500 patients.
Senator Conroy has used the telehealth projects as a pretext to emphasise the potential health benefits that the new fibre optic infrastructure can deliver.
“These exciting initiatives will help demonstrate how important high-speed broadband is to the future of healthcare and highlight why it should be rolled out to all Australians,” Senator Conroy said.
The federal government’s funding will total at $20.3 million, which will be implemented into initiatives by the CSIRO, the Royal District Nursing Service, Feros Care (a not for profit aged and community care provider in New South Wales and Queensland) and the Hunter New England Health District.
The CSIRO’s project will deliver early intervention services to allow specialists in metropolitan hospitals to use video-conferencing and medical imagining to identify eye diseases in remote Western Australia and the Torres Strait.
A funding plan by the Western Australian government preceded the federal government’s recent boost for telehealth in a scheme to improve six specialised Aboriginal health clinics in March 2012.
This plan initiated for a total of $22.2 million through the WA government’s Royalties for Regions program was to improve “sub-standard” infrastructure and eliminate the threat of clinics being forcibly closed.
The Royal District Nursing Service’s plan will involve using in-home monitoring to allow nurses to support chronically ill and elderly patience and reduce the frequency of home visits; Feros Care will help seniors stay and home longer through daily monitoring; and the Hunter New England Heath District will help cancer patients in rural and regional areas to access and manage their symptoms by using high-definition video conferencing.
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler said Australia faces increasing challenges in providing appropriate care services to older citizens in an affordable because of the nation’s “rapidly ageing population”.
“This program will demonstrate new models of aged care for older Australians living in their own homes and communities, and how telehealth can help meet these challenges,” Mr Butler said.
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