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Australia delivers broadband telehealth services

The Australian government's high-speed, fast-access broadband communications program will deliver health care services to older Australians, people living with cancer, and those needing palliative care. The national broadband network (NBN) telehealt...

27/01/2012

Australia’s telehealth services are supported by the $36 billion (US$38 billion) NBN roll-out, offering affordable broadband to homes, doctor surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals.

Telehealth services remove many of the barriers, such as Australia’s “tyranny of distance,” as well as managing the time and cost involved in patients visiting healthcare providers or GPs.

These broadband-supported services, when fully operational, will transform the way healthcare is delivered nationally – while streamlining service delivery for groups in most need.

Senator Stephen Conroy, minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, says telehealth will transform health care delivery in Australia.

“This trial will make a real difference to the lives of patients with high health care needs living in NBN early rollout areas, particularly those in regional, rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas,” he says.

With an aging population, the Australian government seeks to maximise the reach of health care services, while proactively managing medical conditions.

Existing telehealth services are popular with patients and doctors, making it make easier for people to receive care and consultation through videoconferencing, as and when needed.

Six months after introducing Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations, the uptake has grown steadily – with more than 7,000 services provided by over 1,200 clinicians nationally, mostly to rural and remote areas.

Medicare rebates support online consultations across a range of medical specialties. This program tackles barriers to receiving medical services, especially for communities outside the range of major cities and suburbs.

Tanya Plibersek, minister for health, says the NBN telehealth pilot program will support wide-ranging and innovative services.

Telehealth services may include having “health indicators” monitored remotely – for instance, doctors taking home-bound patients’ blood pressure online, or providing other medical consultation.

On a continent the size of Australia – with widely-dispersed communities -- telehealth offers a cost-effective way to offer consultation and services in “real-time,” additionally reaching remote or disadvantaged communities.

Patients may miss out on timely and appropriate health care services because of their location, or other finance-related concerns.

Older Australian especially benefit from telehealth offerings. They can more readily galvanise help from health professionals – while identifying problems earlier, and managing the risk of travel and other costs.

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