Telehealth can offer alternative options for receiving healthcare services in rural locations, improving access and reducing costs associated with traveling for services. Indeed there are increasing governmental, health service and societal expectations that we use telehealth as a solution to address inequity of health services in rural locations.
The delivery of clinical services by telehealth relies on a well-coordinated strategy, which brings together a number of different stakeholders. Technology alone cannot deliver a solution to small rural communities that do not have access to specialist health services. Particularly for telehealth initiatives that focus on screening or monitoring, there is a need for telehealth services to be augmented with clinical services that provide treatment. Barriers exist when these services are not well aligned or coordinated in regards to location, staffing and funding models. Ethical issues may arise when disease states are identified at a distance using technology, without the matched capacity and capability to provide treatment.
Across Australia telehealth is increasingly common and there are multiple examples of well-functioning models. The establishment of sustainable telehealth services requires a carefully planned strategy that addresses important requirements from a multi-stakeholder perspective. The strategy must consider technological requirements; availability of clinical expertise; change management; business processes; education and training; and communications and marketing. Additionally more research is required to understand the factors that contribute to sustainability of services. While telehealth services may save costs associated with travel, there is little understanding of the cost-shifting within the health services when services are supplemented, or replaced by a telehealth model. Understanding these issues will help us truly realise the potential benefits of using telehealth to overcome problems of time and distance in rural and remote locations.
This presentation will describe examples of well-functioning telehealth services in rural communities, and promote discussion around overcoming the barriers that impeded more wide-spread uptake of telehealth in clinical service delivery.