What is telehealth?
Telehealth is the use of information and communication technology to provide health and long-term care services over a distance.
This includes the transmission of images, voice, data and videoconferencing between 2 or more sites.
Telehealth offers a range of service delivery options for the benefit of patients, their family and health service providers.
How does it work?
Doctors and other health professionals provide health care services using high definition video conferencing and audio equipment so that patient appointments and consultations can be conducted remotely. Both patients and their health professionals can see and hear each other in real time, just like a face-to-face appointment. Local GPs and other healthcare providers can also join these sessions.
A network of videoconferencing units exist across WA health facilities providing access to telehealth across most of the state. This network is being continually improved for reliability and coverage.
Currently telehealth services in WA are largely provided from the metropolitan area to rural sites, however telehealth services are now developing within the regions.
There are 5 different types of services that telehealth can offer.
1. Ambulatory care clinical services
This involves a healthcare provider and a patient participating in a real-time video-conference consult within an outpatient setting. This reduces the need for patients to travel, decreasing their time and financial costs.
These services enable patients to access consultations such as pre-operative assessments and follow-up reviews in their home towns.
For example, a cardiologist could support the local doctor with management of a country patient’s heart condition where the specialists input will assist with early diagnosis and best practice management.
A cancer specialist may support a local GP with ongoing therapy and management of a cancer patient, allowing patients to remain closer to home.
Telehealth also provides patients with the ability to access different clinicians to manage chronic disease including nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians and other therapists. All of these health service providers can support the patient remotely. Different types of clinical care and support can be offered by both public and private health services using telehealth.
Specialist clinicians are also able to support families and allied health therapists with home-based treatment and Aboriginal health workers can link to specialists to access support with ear, eye and oral health care for people in remote communities.
2. Acute clinical services
High definition video conferencing equipment can be used in the acute setting to support specialist care such as emergency medicine. Specialist clinicians who are generally located in metropolitan tertiary hospitals can access patients in rural locations to improve access to specialist skills and knowledge.
Specialist emergency medicine is provided directly to rural emergency departments. Patients may present to a health service where there is no local doctor available or with a complex emergency presentation that would benefit from the early input of a specialist emergency physician. This is occurring every day in WA and is making a significant difference to emergency care provided in country locations.
Telehealth has the capacity to significantly improve access to specialist medicine and services for rural and remote patients.
3. Training and education
This provides patients and health professionals an opportunity to take part in training and education through video conferences regardless of their geographical location. Access to continuing professional development opportunities is greatly increased for rural and remote healthcare providers through telehealth.
4. Secure store and forward applications
Telehealth allows a range of patient information – such as images, test results and X-rays that can be uploaded and later reviewed by a clinician who may be hundreds of kilometres away. Specialist clinicians are then able to support the diagnosis and management of patients closer to their home.
5. Home monitoring
This allows patients with significant chronic disease to monitor their condition and send vital statistics, such as blood pressure or blood sugar levels, to their healthcare providers. In this way, patients can be monitored remotely and can share responsibility for their care.
Benefits of telehealth
- improved access to health services, particularly specialist medical, allied health and nursing services closer to the patient’s place of residence
- reduced time and travel costs for country patients
- better access to education, training and support opportunities for the community and healthcare providers
- improved collaboration and communication between healthcare providers.
Services available through telehealth
Telehealth is used successfully in a number of medical areas for clinical consultations, case reviews and clinical supervision. These areas include:
- emergency medicine
- mental health
- plastic surgery
- pain medicine
- children’s services include:
- burns and plastic surgery
- developmental paediatrics.
Other areas where telehealth is being used successfully include:
- virtual family visiting where a long-stay patient who is away from their home town can videoconference with family and friends
- multidisciplinary meetings between health professionals
- education and training.
For all telehealth general enquiries, phone 6383 1850.
WA Country Health Service
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.