Helping to improve health outcomes through connectivity

  • Man on phone diagnosing a hand on computer screen. Dr John Kelly conducting a telehealth consultation.

Dr John Kelly conducting a telehealth consultation.

Jen Beer
Head of Education and Health, Regional and Remote

At the north-eastern tip of the Northern Territory, almost 11 hours by road from Darwin, lies East Arnhem Land. Spanning 91,000 square kilometres, it’s here that the Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation (LHAC) supports 30 Indigenous Homelands – extended traditional kinship groups – with a range of vital services and infrastructure, including healthcare. And now, thanks to help from access to services over the nbn network, telehealth healthcare in the homelands is even more accessible.

Healthcare in the homelands

For 20 very remote homeland communities in the region, Laynhapuy Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services is the sole healthcare provider. Based in Yirrkala, Laynhapuy Health is focused on enhancing the health and wellbeing of Yolngu people through holistic, quality primary healthcare delivered in their homelands.

“Staff outreach Monday to Saturday most weeks up to 220km, usually travelling by 4WD from Yirrkala. Most staff stay one to two nights because there are so many places to cover,” said Jeff Cook, Health Manager at LHAC.

Aboriginal Health Workers, who reside in the homelands, are also employed by Laynhapuy Health to provide community support and to liaise with health staff between visits.

How connectivity is helping

Laynhapuy Health is using 11 new nbnSky Muster™ Plus services to help support the homelands – six of these services are dedicated to health clinics, one is located in staff accommodation, and four are in local shops.

In the past, the six health clinics had interim satellite solutions, three of which were sometimes impacted during the wet season. The staff accommodation had never been connected. And for many of the areas with limited or no mobile phone coverage, calls for emergency transport or evacuation could only be made via the Health Service’s main office in Yirrkala, which only operates from Monday to Friday.

These days, with access to services over Sky Muster™ Plus, medical staff can make Wi-Fi calls any day and time of the week, out in the community.

“If we didn’t have Wi-Fi calling, we wouldn’t have a direct way of contacting the District Medical Officer, in particular on weekends, who coordinates emergency retrievals throughout the whole Territory.”

For example, on a Saturday morning recently, a young girl required emergency evacuation. A Wi-Fi call was able to be made via services over Sky Muster™ Plus from the Gangan clinic 220km and two river crossings from the main clinic in Yirrkala, and she was successfully evacuated and treated.

Sky Muster™ and telehealth

The improved connectivity is helping health workers provide videoconferencing telehealth services. While other telehealth scenarios may involve a GP in their clinic and a patient at home, consults in the homelands often involve a patient, members of the patient’s family, a nurse and an Aboriginal Health Worker in the clinic, with the GP or specialist as far away as Sydney or Tasmania.  For the GPs and specialists, this approach lets them see more patients in the region without spending up to six hours travelling to an appointment.

“Consultations that could previously only take place in person can now be performed via Telehealth, helping to save time and money for those who would otherwise be travelling to face-to-face appointments,” says Dr John Kelly, GP at Laynhapuy Health.

“Telehealth has allowed greater continuity of care with staff familiar with the patient.”

As Laynhapuy Health shows, with a little help from connectivity via services over the nbn™ network, there’s no need to compromise on health outcomes, no matter where you are in our vast nation.

Read the full article and more about the difference connectivity is making on nbn’s blog.

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