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Telehealth will improve access to health care for East Coast

Telehealth will make access to health care easier for East Coast people.

A new initiative that has the potential to make huge a difference to the health of people living in remote areas was demonstrated to East Coast MP Anne Tolley and Speaker of the House David Carter at Gisborne Hospital today (Friday 12 September).

Telehealth is a way to connect people living on the East Coast to health professionals based in Gisborne, bringing care closer to home in a cost effective way. Webcams and software have been installed on computers used at medical clinics throughout the East Coast as well as in Gisborne Hospital’s emergency department and mental health department.

Emergency Department Doctor Johan Peters used the technology to connect with General Practitioner Dr Akin Ojoa, who is based in Te Puia, and Ngati Porou Hauora’s Primary Health Services Manager Georgina Paerata. “There is the potential to work with staff based in Te Puia on treatment or stabilisation options and in some cases avoid transporting people with injuries or illnesses to Gisborne,” says Dr Peters. “The technology is all ready to go. We are now training staff and setting up our protocols. The opportunity to diagnose remotely and provide support for other clinical staff working on the Coast will be a significant step forward.”

Webcams have also been installed on computers in Tairawhiti District Health’s (TDH) Community Mental Health Team’s offices where Psychiatrist Dr Sumita Prabhakaran has been the first to start using the system and see the benefits.

“This is already making a real difference for our patients living on the Coast. The obvious benefit is that they can avoid up to six hours on a round trip, and save many dollars in petrol money, not travelling to an appointment. It also means patients are more likely to attend their appointment. Patients come along to their nearest clinic, whether that is in Te Araroa or Tokomaru Bay, make themselves comfortable in a private room and speak with me. Staff in the clinic will help set the computer up and ensure the session is ready to go. Being able to see the patients faces and body language, and for them to be able to show me anything that is concerning them, makes all the difference.”

The quality of the video connections around East Cape is excellent says Tairawhiti District Health Board Chair David Scott. “Fibre optic cabling goes right around, with a wireless connection into each clinic. Much of this is due to the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative, as the fibre has been deployed primarily to feed cellphone towers but also available for other uses.”

“With Bay of Plenty District Health Board video facilities at Te Kaha and Waihau Bay, and the video facilities installed by TDH, on the 326km journey from Opotiki via Hicks Bay to Gisborne there are 11 video-equipped health facilities. That’s an average of one every 30km. In an area known for its isolation, with no public transport, and some high risk activities such as forestry, the potential to improve safety and timely access to services is important.”

“Telehealth is the ‘clinic of the future” and will enable the Ngati Porou clinics, which have four doctors spread across seven clinics, to become more flexible in the way they work. It will also mean that nurses can consult visually with doctors on “nurse only” days”, added Mr Scott.

Telehealth is already in place across the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area with all GP clinics in Opotiki providing this service to reduce the number of times patients have to travel to Whakatane and Tauranga hospitals. It is also being used on the West Coast of the South Island as well as Ashburton Hospital.

TDH would like to thank Bay of Plenty District Health Board; Ngati Porou Hauora, Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment and the National Health IT Board for their assistance setting up this project.


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