Australia's Telehealth Solutions To Be Driven By Patient Demand

The medical sector has been a somewhat slow adopter of ICT, spending an estimated $783 million over the past year. However, this is expected to nearly double by 2018 — with disgruntled, tech-savvy patients providing a major push.

Medical tablet picture from Shutterstock

Last week, we attended a panel discussion about the importance of IT in the future of healthcare, which included LifeSize Communications' ANZ regional sales manager Gerry Forsythe. LifeSize Communications is a telehealth outfit that provides audio/video teleconferencing solutions to healthcare professionals.

According to Forsythe, the take-up rate of telehealth solutions in Australia has not been as high as anticipated, with the government's Medicare rebate program stifling growth in this area.

"If you're a consultant, GP or specialist who qualified [for the rebate], you could get $6000 from the government to implement a video technology piece of equipment," Forsythe explained, "So what did people do? They collected the $6000 and put Skype on their PCs, which is exactly what around 1500 doctors did.

"Skype as you all know runs great on a PC with a webcam, but if you're in a surgery situation it isn't going to work. You should be [using] a screen on the wall getting 1080p video at a minimum of 25 frames per second. While Skype has been great for the industry in some ways, it's not secure and it's not standards based."

Indeed, the lack of standards-based solutions is another key issue hampering the growth of ICT in the Australian health sector — currently, no national services registrar exists, which makes interoperability between GPs, patients and hospitals next to impossible.

"Say you're a general practitioner and you want to call Concord hospital to get a second opinion about a patient who has just walked in with a burn," Forsythe said. "There's currently no system in place which allows you to get quick access to consultants."

'Squeaky wheels' to drive ICT growth

It seems safe to say that the medical sector has somewhat fumbled the ball when it comes to ICT adoption. However, the situation is expected to improve in the coming years, with the patients themselves helping to drive growth and investment.

Chris Stevens is the CTO of clinical software provider Orion Health. According to Stevens, an increasing number of patients will begin to put pressure on their GPs and medical centres to provide a better level of technology moving forward.

"Patients today are a lot more comfortable with this kind of technology and in fact are beginning to expect it. In the future, we're definitely expecting to see patients demand certain services.

"Like; "don't make me drive 50 kilometres to come to my regular appointment — I can set up a video conference with my grandchildren on the other side of the world, so why can't I do it with you?" So we're certainly going to see more and more demand from patients for use of this technology."

It's a change that really can't come soon enough. Last year, Australia's national healthcare costs exceeded $134 billion and continues to grow at around twice the rate of GDP. Various industry analysts are in agreement that this current rate of expenditure is unsustainable, with improved IT solutions cited as a key strategy for reducing costs.

In other words, it might be prudent to blithely ask for a video consultation the next time you visit your GP.


    “don’t make me drive 50 kilometres to come to my regular appointment — I can set up a video conference with my grandchildren on the other side of the world, so why can’t I do it with you?”

    Then... 'I can't do blood tests like this.' || 'why is it that you/re 30kg heavier in person than on skype?' || 'I can't tell if thats breast cancer or not, the image is too poor' || 'I told you, I couldn't diagnose breast cancer when not in person, your lawsuit will fail'

    That... is just how I see tele-presence with doctors happening if not managed right.

      key word being regular appointments, there is a demand for video but clearly wont suit every circumstance.

    "I can set up a video conference with my grandchildren on the other side of the world, so why can’t I do it with you"

    Your grandkids aren't diagnosing that small mole behind your ear to be melanoma stage 4, your grandkids ain't gonna do your papsmear and no, the bloody rash isn't clear enough to see using your $1 webcam you dimwit.

    Medicine is MORE than a chat. We diagnose people AS THEY WALK though the door -> everything from gait to smell (Hmm.. aceatone = diabetic ketoacidosis, disgusting burnt blood smell, bowel/liver problems, can tell you've fallen off the wagon again, and oh, yeah, you quit smoking HOW many MINUTES ago?).

    Normal monitors aren't even good enough to use for diagnostic X-RAYS yet alone doing consults. And it takes clinicians YEARS of exposure through patient contact before we become competent to piece together small clues to make a diagnosis.

    Until everyone has a Davinci machine and a suite of probes and biosensors that I can work with in a STANDARDIZED form, these initiatives are just completely academic.

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