Community Care Takes Strides With Telehealth In Rural Area

By Adriana Rehbein
Friday, 08 March, 2013

Three Queensland aged care services are a driving force behind introducing Telehealth to rural communities, and helping to relieve the stress of older Australians travelling distances for specialist appointments, explains Lara Caughey.
[caption id="attachment_1777" align="alignnone" width="600"]Salem’s Registered nurse Kim Murphy, Joyce Jukes, Salem GeneralManager Terry Arthur see a specialist regarding wound care. Salem’s Registered nurse Kim Murphy, Joyce Jukes, Salem General
Manager Terry Arthur see a specialist regarding wound care.[/caption]
Telehealth, a video consultation system, provides a practical alternative to face-to-face appointments removing barriers to accessing medical services for Australians who have difficulty getting to a specialist appointment or who live in rural and remote areas.Lutheran Community Care’s Orana (Kingaroy), St Paul’s (Caboolture) and Salem (Toowoomba) aged care services have introduced the technology to make residents’ lives easier.
A specialist such as a psychiatrist can be sitting in front of a computer in one location and the resident can watch a computer screen in a different location. Orana Lutheran Complex Manager Richard Fahy has used Telehealth for two residents specialist appointments thus far with more on the cards.
Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine Strategic Programs Manager — e-Health Vicki Sheedy said she felt pleased Orana was at the forefront of the aged care sector in terms of Telehealth. “It is so good to see a rural aged care service at the forefront of adapting to and adopting new technology to improve the care of the residents,” she said.
Richard said Medicare gave approval for Telehealth to be used in a residential aged care setting and provided the incentive payment of $6,000 to set up and run the first consultation. Anyone with a Medicare number is eligible to apply.
He recently shared his experiences in Sydney at the ‘Modern Aged Care 2012: Responding to the Challenge through Technology’ in October and is encouraging other aged care services to embrace the technology.
Richard spoke at the conference about the outcomes of his case studies including linking a psychogeriatrician in Toowoomba with assistance for a resident with dementia and another with a sister service for wound care assessment, “The specialist was very happy with the quality of imaging and was able to make clinical decisions based on what they were seeing,” he said. “It was a time saver for a frail resident who benefitted with clinical care without the tiring travel involved to Brisbane.”
Another Telehealth consultation will take place at Orana with Alzheimer’s Australia (Queensland) focusing on occupational therapy in high care.
Orana has recently worked with the RSL Kingaroy-Merambi to establish a Veterans support centre run by the RSL. This will also be an area that Orana will provide community resource access to for those veterans needing to access a video consultation.
As a result of his presentation at the conference Richard attracted the attention of a doctor from Armidale in New South Wales who is now looking to implement the technology, “She is keen to learn from us and progress rural communities in New South Wales,” he said.
“I am selling the message to residents and their families to provide them with the service when people come looking to move into a facility.” Richard commented that some of the immediate advantages which spring to mind about Telehealth technology included reducing morbidity and family anxiety associated with the long trips to access specialised care.
“It also helps reduce staff impacts by removing some needs to escort residents where a Telehealth consultation may suffice,” he said. “Industry groups shouldn’t be afraid of the infrastructure costs associated with the venture just start small and see how your service will benefit from the technology.”
Richard believes aged care services really need to engage with GPs and colleges to assist them with launching Telehealth by building strong relationships in the field. “The relationship connection with colleges in rural and remote medicine areas need to be strongly built so services can have a stronger foundation to setup,” he said.
“It is critical to get the support from primary health groups and GPs. Wound care and dementia assessment are two really strong areas where we need it [Telehealth]. It results in better care for residents. A nursing staff member can drive it, maintain and grow the project.”

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