Accessing government health services from rural or remote areas is often a difficult task for patients.It’s fair to say that there isn’t just one reason why this may be the case, as travel distance, access to transport and the cost of the travel serve as significant challenges for people who live in remote areas. In some cases, there may also be language or cultural barriers.
But sometimes it due to a poor understanding of health issues and how to access health services in general.
Technology is helping to push through these barriers — it's a critical tool to help reach and provide better healthcare for rural Australians.
Let’s take a look at some of the tech initiatives that local, state and federal governments have put in place to improve health service delivery, and what to expect in the future.
Telehealth is the health term coined for video-conferencing in the health sector. It is emerging as a technology to complement local health services throughout Australia.
Widespread onboarding of this technology assists in delivering health services to remote communities in varied ways.
- By reducing the need to travel great distances to see a specialist.
- Using it as an incredible tool for pre- and postoperative care.
- It also provides health services in a much timelier manner, leading to earlier detection.
- Telehealth helps rural doctors seek a second opinion from other specialists around the globe.
- It enables doctors to get remote help to manage emergency and unplanned patient presentations.
- Its also gives staff access to receive remote education, training and support on location.
Between July 2011 and February 2013 the total amount of video consultation in Australia skyrocketed. By the end of March 2013 the Department of Human Services had processed more than 77,000 telehealth services payments, provided to over 33,000 patients by more than 7,700 practitioners.
Mental Health Emergency Care Rural Access Project (New South Wales)
The project gives mental health clients, in rural and remote hospitals, access to a specialist team at Bloomfield Hospital in Orange. They provide support to those in need 24 hours a day 365 days a year by video conference.
This removes the need for patients to travel and gives them expert care as soon as they need them.
Nationwide eHealth record system
The Australian Government’s Personally Controlled eHealth Record (PCEHR) is an initiative we’ve covered before. In summary, it’s an electronic record of an individual’s health record. Both the individual and the health care provider can accesses it online.
In theory, the government is moving toward centralising the information to:
- Increasing patient care, regardless of the patient’s location
- Reduce the taxpayer’s cost for healthcare
The above will make access to patient records easier and faster. Doctors and nurses will have all the information they need in a sole location
The initiative also aims to be safer. Doctors know a patient’s current and past medical history, including allergies and current medications. It also plans to make life easier for the patient by giving them less to remember. For example, they will have accurate records of when they were last vaccinated against rabies or the result of a bone marrow test.
This combined with telehealth will enable patients in rural and remote areas to receive better care.
The advancement of technology will lead to further improvements in e-Health and better access to health services in remote locations. As systems and technology evolve, there will be big developments in the space of education and early detection.
Language, cultural barriers, poor understanding of health issues and how to access health services in general, are many of the reasons rural and remote communities suffer great health disadvantages.
There’s no doubt that technology will also have to play a big part in educating Australians, both young and old, about health.
It won’t be long before we see tablet apps that teach small children how to identify signs of getting ill and what to do from there. They will be able to take ownership of their health no matter what their mother tongue, cultural background or education level is.
Children won’t be the only ones receiving education. Governments will work to bring education to all ages on how to prevent illness and gain access to the services they need.
To educate and provide health services to remote communities, the government faces some technical barriers. While the internet provides rapid access to information like nothing we’ve seen before, it’s only communities with a reliable internet connection that can benefit from technology based health services.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a $37 billion government initiative to connect communities around the country to fast, reliable internet. Changes in government and budget restraints are delaying the rollout leaving many remote communities out of touch and unable to connect to the technology driven health services.