The Federal Government has been urged to develop a National Strategy for Telehealth to help rein in the ballooning health budget deficit.
A collaboration of health industry stakeholders – One In Four Lives – released in March 2014 a White Paper, to stimulate discussion and encourage a wide range of health interests to support the adoption of Telehealth on a national basis.
The One In Four Lives group estimates that Telehealth has the ability to slash Australia’s public hospital costs by about $4 billion a year in avoidable hospital presentations related to chronic conditions and improve access to healthcare for the thousands of Australians who wait months to see a doctor.
The name of the new body reflects the fact that almost six million, or one in four Australians, are affected by chronic health conditions.
This is a major burden on the health budget, accounting for 60% of all hospital bed days and an estimated $17 billion annually in public health costs. Also, 62% of rural Australians experiencing shortage of local health professionals; regional patients have access to less than half the Specialists available in major metro areas
The White Paper recognises that the Australian health system is not sustainable in its current form.
Treasury modelling predicts that on current trends health care costs will consume more than 100% of the entire revenue collected by the States by 2046.
One In Four Lives is a collaboration of organisations representing a broad range of the health industry, including AIIA, BT, anywhere healthcare, Philips, and the University of Western Sydney, supported by not-for-profit operators and leading health academics.
A study in the UK found that Telehealth could deliver a 15% reduction in emergency visits, a 20% reduction in emergency admissions, a 14% reduction in both hospital admissions and bed days and a 45% reduction in mortality rates.
One trial for patients using in-home dialysis for renal failure has seen the number of patients presenting to hospital fall by nearly 50%. Rather than travelling to the hospital these patients are able to complete their dialysis at home, with the aid of in-home Telehealth equipment and video conferencing, sometimes saving up to 4 hours a day.
“MBS funded video consultations have improved the lives of the 47,000 patients who have consulted with a specialist in the last two years.”
At its heart Telehealth aims to provide people with access to proven models of healthcare, delivered remotely.
The goal is to intervene before impact – on the patient, their carer or the health system.
By using Telehealth thousands of Australians can be freed from the need to make trips (sometimes over long distances, with carers) to doctors, specialists and hospitals in major centres for consultations and tests and then to return for the results. This improves the likelihood that patients get the right care at the right time, and prevent further deterioration due to a delay in consultation.
For those with chronic conditions, Telehealth can also include remote patient monitoring which provides patients with the knowledge to manage their condition in the comfort of their own home, and allows for early detection of any changes in their condition.
The patient’s vital signs can be captured in accordance with the care plan through blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and other small medical devices that send the readings via Bluetooth to a smartphone or similar device to a central monitoring station.
The monitoring nurse – who is able to manage a workload of up to 250 patients – will be alerted if readings exceed the thresholds set for the individual patients and may request that the patient retake their readings, assess the impact of recent medication, food or exercise intake, or refer the patient to their GP for review.
The White Paper is available online at www.aiia.com.au
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