4 ways telehealth helps rural & remote communities in Australia

Rural community township

Take a look at the four ways telehealth helps remote communities in Australia.

Late last year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a snapshot report looking at the health of Australians living in rural and remote areas. It has highlighted to us how telehealth helps remote communities.

While these communities report higher levels of life satisfaction, interconnectedness and social cohesion, on average, the 28 percent of Australians who live outside our major cities – whether in nearby inner regional areas or very remote areas – have poorer health outcomes compared to people living in metropolitan areas.

They are more likely to have:
  • shorter lives,
  • higher levels of disease and injury,
  • and poorer access to, and use of, health services.

These health inequalities are due to factors such as challenges accessing specialist medical care, occupational accidents, and higher rates of smoking, alcohol use, and obesity.

While there is no replacement for the importance of face-to-face medical care to improve health outcomes, Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of telehealth as an important tool.

We take a look at the four major issues highlighted in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) rural and remote health report, and the ways that we think telemedicine is improving access to equality healthcare:

1. In 2017-18, potentially preventable hospitalisation rates in very remote areas were 2.5 times as high as major cities.

Telehealth helps reduce unnecessary hospitalisations by using real-time video technology to connect remote patients with healthcare when and where they need it. This provides improved preventative care and early disease management, as well as pre- and post-operative medical monitoring, and access to electronic prescriptions.

One example is the Visionflex high-definition GEIS General Examination Camera HD for remote wound assessment. Local GPs and community nurses can use the camera at the point of care to perform clinical assessments of a wound and connect in real time, via video, with specialists using our ProEX Telehealth Hub or ProEX Mobile. Images can be securely stored on an electronic health record (EHR) system and shared for assessment and future review.

Our ProEX Telehealth Hub is used by NSW Health, The Australian Antarctic Division, NSW Justice Health and Telstra Health; it is also in use in North America, Europe, South East Asia, and the Middle East.

2. In 2015, the total disease burden in remote and very remote areas was 1.4 times as high as major cities.

Burden of disease is a measure of the years of healthy life lost due to living with, and dying prematurely from, disease and injury. In rural and remote areas, the upward trend of burden of disease corresponds with increasing rates of:

  • coronary heart disease,
  • chronic kidney disease,
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
  • lung cancer,
  • stroke,
  • suicide,
  • self-inflicted injuries,
  • and type 2 diabetes,
  • family, domestic, and sexual violence is also another serious health issue

People living outside major cities are 1.4 times more likely to have experienced partner violence than those living in major cities. Visionflex telehealth products can be used by health professionals to provide prompt diagnoses and ongoing treatment to patients living with complex and chronic health issues .Video consultations on both the ProEX Telehealth Hub and ProEX Mobile can be transmitted via a local network, WiFi, and the internet. The ProEX Mobile also includes 4G/LTE for complete wireless operation. All ProEX units are easily programmed to communicate with each other and share information in a customised network. The ProEX includes a suite of state-of-the-art accessories that effectively bring the specialist to the patient. All Visionflex products are IEC 60601 compliant, making them suitable for clinical medical assessments. Accessories include ultrasound, digital stethoscope, endoscope, otoscope, portable ECG heart monitor and infrared ear thermometer, plus many more. Our rugged, tablet-sized portable version – the ProEX Mobile – is a telehealth solution for fieldwork, outreach clinics and travelling health professionals. Our ProEX Mobile is used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, QLD Health, as well as Aboriginal Medical Services such as the Yura Yungi Medical Service in remote Halls Creek, Western Australia.

3. In 2015-17, life expectancy for both males and females decreased as remoteness increased.

The AIHW report confirms what we already know: medical facilities in rural and remote areas tend to be smaller, have less infrastructure and provide a broader range of services to a more widely distributed population. For example, the Australian Government has assisted state and territory health services with funding as part of its Multi-Purpose Services Program, to provide integrated aged care/health facilities to regional and remote communities that cannot support them as two separate services.

Telehealth connects patients with specialist care and medical expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be available in their community. It can provide faster access to medical appointments and over time, patients can build rapport through regular contact with their health providers.

For the 140 residents of Wanaaring in western NSW, where the average daily temperature is 40 degrees, a trip to the ‘local’ doctor requires a round trip of a few hundred kilometres. This year, we delivered a ProEX Telehealth Hub to local nurse, Pat.

Using the ProEX, Pat can now connect residents via satellite to a GP or specialist for remote consultation and patient examination. This eliminates the need for travel and saves time and money.

Most importantly, the ProEX improves health outcomes: Pat now has access to vital patient information and expert guidance so she can make crucial decisions that could save a life.

4. In 2016, people in remote areas were more likely to report barriers accessing GPs and specialists than major cities.

According to the report, the number of specialists substantially declines with increasing remoteness from 143 specialists per 100,000 population in major cities, to 22 per 100,000 population in very remote areas.

Accessing GPs is typically difficult due to complex work/time arrangements in remote locations; while the number of allied health professionals, dentists and pharmacists declines the further you move away from a major city.

Likewise, nurse and midwife numbers decline in the inner and outer regional areas, but increase in remote and very remote locations, indicating their importance in delivering community health services.

In the world’s most remote location, the Antarctic, Visionflex is delivering specialist medical and dental care across thousands of kilometres to the expeditioners at the The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) bases: Mawson, Davis and Casey on the Antarctic continent, and the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Another is in use on the AAD science and resupply ship. We see everyday how telehealth helps remote communities.

From remote dental exams to surgery and detailed wound assessment, the AAD uses ProEX units across its bases, where they are an integral part of their daily health service.

Download the full report or learn more about Visionflex.