Telehealth

WA’s regional health landscape is changing thanks to telehealth, enabling more public patients to access specialist outpatient and acute care in their local regional community.

The WA Country Health Service promotes quality health services for all, with a focus on delivering high quality, accessible and safe services closer to home where possible. The telehealth service is an important component of this focus of keeping country people healthy and in their communities.

The rollout of the telehealth service across our vast state is linking increasing numbers of regionally-based patients and medical staff via videoconferencing to specialist health professionals based in the metropolitan area or elsewhere.

The Statewide Telehealth Service provides the infrastructure and support for the rollout of telehealth across WA. It is funded jointly by the WA Country Health Service and the State Government’s Royalties for Regions half a billion dollar Southern Inland Health Initiative.

What is telehealth?

Clinician and patient using a VC unit

Telehealth is the use of information and communication technology to provide healthcare over a distance. This includes the transmission of images, voice, data and videoconferencing between two or more sites.

Telehealth connects regional patients to safe, high quality and cost-effective clinical services closer to home. Telehealth provides regional patients with improved access to timely specialist and emergency care, which can lead to improved health outcomes.

Within the Western Australian public health system, telehealth is used in a number of different service delivery areas (see ‘Key telehealth service delivery areas’ below), however most commonly telehealth is used for:

  • The Emergency Telehealth Service which uses telehealth technology to provide specialist emergency medicine support to clinical staff treating acute patients in country hospital emergency departments, and
  • outpatient consultations between metropolitan-based specialists and regionally-based public patients via videoconference.

What are the benefits for patients?

Person using a VC unit

In the case of the Emergency Telehealth Service, where clinical staff in small country hospitals are linked via videoconference with experienced emergency medicine specialists in Perth, telehealth is helping to save lives and improve health outcomes.

Outpatient consults between specialists based in Perth or elsewhere and regionally-based  patients via telehealth saves regional patients time, money and the inconvenience of having to do a round trip to Perth, not to mention the impact being away from home can have on work, family and recovery.

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How does the technology work?

Clinician and patient using a VC unit

There is an extensive network of videoconferencing units within Health facilities across WA, mainly in hospitals, community health centres and nursing posts. These units provide a video link between specialist health professionals and their regional patients for clinical consultations, even though they may be separated by thousands of kilometres.

The high definition video consultation can be just like having the health professional in the room, with two-way audio and visual communication.

For outpatient specialist consults, a local health professional such as a GP or a physiotherapist, could also be in the room with the patient and speak with the specialist via video during the consultation. The patient could also have a family member or carer with them in the consultation. 

Key telehealth service delivery areas

Clinician and patient using a VC unit

There are five key service delivery areas for telehealth in WA:

  • Clinical outpatient telehealth service delivery – mostly videoconference outpatient appointments between regionally-based patients and specialists based in metropolitan public hospitals or other regional sites, for a vast array of medical treatments including:
    • plastic surgery (burns, wound clinics etc)
    • urology
    • pain medicine
    • gastroenterology
    • speech pathology
    • neurology
    • respiratory medicine
    • child and adolescent, adult, and older adult mental health services including clinical consultations, case reviews and clinical supervision
    • paediatric outpatient services in a range of specialty areas including orthopaedics, rehabilitation, burns/plastics and developmental paediatrics
    • joint replacement assessment clinic outpatient service, for the periodic review of patients following joint replacement surgery
    • geriatric medicine service, for the delivery of geriatric assessments, case reviews and education
    • and many more.
  • The Emergency Telehealth Service is a telemedicine service provided by emergency medicine specialists in Perth using videoconferencing equipment to support regional clinicians treating very acute emergency patients. The aim of the Emergency Telehealth Service is to improve the equity of access to emergency medicine services for rural and remote patients.

  • Training and education - providing opportunities for consumers and health staff to participate in training and education courses and clinics via videoconference regardless of their geographical location.

  • Store and forward - applications that allow the safe and secure sharing of images, clinical results and patient information that can be documented, uploaded and reviewed by a clinician at a convenient time.

  • Remote Patient Monitoring - enabling patients managing significant chronic diseases to share responsibility for their care through the process of self-monitoring in partnership with their healthcare provider.

The Emergency Telehealth Service

The Emergency Telehealth Service is a telemedicine service provided by emergency medicine specialists using high definition videoconferencing equipment to support clinicians in rural and remote emergency departments with the diagnosis, treatment and transfer of critically ill and injured emergency patients.

Expansion of telehealth

The use of telehealth in the delivery of health services to regional WA is rapidly expanding.  Since its inception in 2011 as a key WA Country Health Service strategy to address long term problems with the delivery of health care in rural and remote WA, the telehealth service has (as at 30 June 2015):

  • conducted more than 40,000 ‘virtual’ clinical consults across WA (includes emergency consults and outpatient consults)
  • hosted over 65,000 ‘virtual’ meetings totalling around 46,000 hours in the 2014/2015 financial year
  • installed a statewide fleet of more than 720 videoconferencing machines and 478 virtual meeting rooms, and
  • installed Emergency Telehealth Service equipment in 63 regional sites.

The future of telehealth

WA Health is at a tipping point in its incorporation of telehealth into mainstream service delivery. In many ways we are just at the beginning. The goal is for telehealth services to become standard practice for regional healthcare provision in WA.

The telehealth landscape will continue to expand with a growing trend for external agencies to deliver services to public patients via telehealth. Recent examples include Brightwater Care Group, Silver Chain Nursing and The Centre for Cerebral Palsy.

Telehealth infrastructure is being incorporated into the new health facilities including Fiona Stanley Hospital, the new Perth Children’s Hospital and the new Midland, Albany, Busselton and Karratha health campuses.

Questions and answers

Here you will find a list of common questions and answers about specialist appointments via videoconference for regional patients.

Contact us

Statewide Telehealth Service General Enquiries - 6383 1850

Statewide Telehealth Service Desk – 1300 367 166

Regional Telehealth Contacts - Please contact the Telehealth Coordinator in your region to discuss booking appointments via telehealth:

Goldfields            9080 5682      Kimberley     9166 4381
Great Southern    9892 2475      Midwest        9956 2345
Wheatbelt            9690 1632      South West   9781 2024
Pilbara                9174 1387

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