Telehealth improves sustainability of services to rural and remote communities

  • Photo taken by CheckUP staff while visiting communities in north-west Queensland
    Photo taken by CheckUP staff while visiting communities in north-west Queensland. Photo: David Millichap
Josh French, Regional Coordinator

CheckUP is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to better health for people and communities in rural and remote locations, providing access and assistance to communities where it is most needed. Increasing access through outreach funded telehealth to improve the sustainability of services is a model that is proving a viable solution to workforce issues and access to specialist services, complementing outreach face to face visits.

One demonstrated example is the recent implementation of telehealth paediatric services into Biloela, Emerald, Gladstone, Dalby and Rockhampton. Existing outreach service provider and paediatrician from paediatric outreach services, Dr Tommy Tran, has been able to increase his capacity thereby increasing access to paediatric services through CheckUP’s Rural Health Outreach Fund.  Telehealth is often being used for initial consultations, which typically results in a more efficient face-to-face visit. When combined with a follow up telehealth consultation, this model has seen a significant increase in the number of children and families able to access these services.

Telehealth paediatric services have been very well received into these communities and as a result, the demand for paediatric services continues to increase. Dr Tran’s already busy schedule and high demand for these services across the state did not allow for an increase in face to face visits. However, through consultation with Dr Tran, it was proposed that complementing his face-to-face visits with funded telehealth services would increase patients’ access to these services and their ability to be seen in a more timely manner.

The success of this telehealth model can partially be attributed to the availability of easily accessible technologies such as Skype, Facetime, Zoom & Hangout. These programs allow for flexible options at the patient’s end, who are able to receive consultations with their paediatrician from their own home or at their local GP surgery, removing the need for long-distance travel.

Dr Tran provided some insight into how telehealth has been of benefit to the communities.

“I feel that telehealth has provided access for children and families in rural areas, who wouldn’t be able to access specialist care. Many families avoid seeing specialists because of the time and costs associated with accessing care, and telehealth removes this barrier. Children are unique in that early intervention can significantly alter their developmental trajectory, providing them with the best opportunities into adulthood. I feel that telehealth has made it possible for these children to seek the support they require. “

Since the implementation of this new telehealth service, Dr Tran has been able to provide early intervention screening and timely follow up for an additional 20-30 patients each day per community when telehealth services are conducted. CheckUP continues to receive positive feedback for these services from a range of key stakeholders and will endeavour to expand this model to other rural and remote communities, further increasing access for disadvantaged areas across Queensland.

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