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DHBs increase use of telehealth for clinical care

A “promising” new telehealth report shows a significant increase in the number of providers and services using telehealth for the delivery of clinical care.

However, ongoing barriers to uptake and silos of data and knowledge around telehealth means successful pilots have not always translated into business as usual services.

The 2019 Telehealth Survey updates one published four years ago and shows uptake has increased considerably across all 20 DHBs with more than 1300 telehealth initiatives either active, in pilot or planned.

“Many organisations are turning to telehealth as they strive to improve the services they deliver,” the report says.

“However, uptake of telehealth often relies on local champions and although many barriers have improved (namely interconnectivity and cost) barriers such as lack of clear leadership and governance, difficulty circumnavigating funding models and access to devices and high-speed internet connections remain.”

Published by the New Zealand Telehealth Leadership Group, the report shows that many more clinical services are using video-based telehealth technologies and all but one DHB is using it for patient consultations.

“The growth is significant, not only in the number of DHBs, but also in the number of clinical services represented, the frequency of usage and the types of telehealth interactions,” it says.

Claire Hardie is a radiation oncologist at Palmerston North Hospital and uses video conferencing for first appointments and follow-up appointments with certain patients.

The video links to New Plymouth, Hastings and Masterton Hospitals where patients are accompanied by a nurse, who in some cases is trained to do physical examinations.

Hardie says she sees one to two new patients a week in this way and holds follow-up clinics twice a month, greatly reducing the distance these patients have to travel for appointments and the disturbance that causes in their lives.

Telehealth also means less time away for consultants as it reduces demand for the regular face-to-face visiting clinics they do in the regions.

Hardie says the service has been running for nearly two years and there is potential to expand it into other areas and run telehealth clinics from places even closer to people’s homes.

The report says that a significant increase in telehealth services is forecast by DHB clinical services, however half of the DHBs say that capacity is insufficient to meet even current demands.

“There is still much to be done for telehealth to become a sustainable and business-as-usual enabler that is embedded in health care delivery,” the report says.

“There is room for improvement in business plans, investment in infrastructure, human resources, the implementation of business-as-usual practices and formal evaluations to support robust business cases.”


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