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Telehealth Represents the Future of New Zealand Healthcare

Telehealth Represents the Future of New Zealand Healthcare

Doctor-patient consultations via video link are the future of healthcare and an answer to serving remote communities says a New Zealand medical leader.

New Zealand Rural General Practice Network chairman, Dr Jo Scott-Jones, made the comments on the day (Wednesday Sept 4th) the Opotiki Telehealth Project was launched by Health Minister Tony Ryall.

“I can see a time in the not too distant future where I will be able to see some patients from their homes using webcams,” said Dr Scott-Jones.

“The number of people living with chronic conditions will increase dramatically in the future without a corresponding increase in the workforce to serve them. That means we will have to think innovatively and learn to do things differently,” said the Opotiki GP principal.

The Opotiki Telehealth Project - a joint initiative between the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the National IT Health Board - represents a major step towards making Dr Scott-Jones’ prediction a reality.

It will see three GP practices, plus health centres, aged care and palliative care facilities across the Eastern Bay, engage in a project designed to add scale and scope to Telehealth work already underway. It will subsequently be rolled out across the Midlands Region before going national.

Telehealth is the delivery of health services and information via telecommunications technologies. In its simplest form it involves a camera and monitor in two geographically distinct locations. The connection allows doctors to make patient assessments which often dispense with the need for long and costly journeys or after-hours visits. The technology lends itself, in particular, to serving rural and remote communities.

Key Telehealth focus areas include: care of aged people and those with chronic conditions in the community; mental health, with a focus on child and adolescent care; virtual visits by GPs to aged care facilities; speech language therapy; and emergency departments.

Dr Scott-Jones said cameras had already been used for in-house teaching; supervision of nurse consultations; medical registrar and student teaching; and for GP:GP education and sharing of experience.

Ernie Newman, Telehealth Project Facilitator, said the Opotiki project was not a pilot but an implementation of technology and methods which would become widespread.

“Other Telehealth projects have taken place in New Zealand but Opotiki is different,” said Mr Newman.

“The fact that it’s primary care makes it special. Other Telehealth projects have been designed around specialities; this is the first with a focus on the community as a whole.

“Secondly this has upstream and downstream advantages. Upstream - for health centres and GPs it gives access to the Whakatane Emergency Department and specialists in Tauranga. Downstream - it means patients in Te Kaha for example can connect with a GP in Opotiki.”

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