A national strategy for Telehealth could save the federal government about $4 billion and help rein in an unsustainable health budget.
One In Four Lives, a group of industry stakeholders, has released a white paper in Canberra, to stimulate discussion and is urging the government to start a national scheme to take control of a ballooning health budget.
The One In Four Lives group estimates that Telehealth has the ability to slash Australia’s public hospital costs by about $4 billion a year in avoidable hospital presentations related to chronic conditions and improve access to healthcare for the thousands of Australians who wait months to see a doctor.
The name of the new body reflects the fact that almost six million, or one in four Australians, are affected by chronic health conditions.
This is a major burden on the health budget, accounting for 60 percent of all hospital bed days and an estimated $17 billion annually in public health costs.
The white paper recognises that the Australian health system is not sustainable in its current form.
Treasury modelling predicts that on current trends health care costs will consume more than 100 percent of the entire revenue collected by the states by 2046.
One In Four Lives is a collaboration of organisations representing a broad range of the health industry, including The Australian Information Industry Association, BT, anywhere healthcare, Philips and the University of Western Sydney.
The Committee Chair, BT’s Director of Health Lisa Altman, said they aimed to encourage the participation of industry in growing Telehealth - providing cheaper, faster, more efficient healthcare solutions through innovation, without imposing an additional burden on the Government’s health budget.
She said the evidence base for Telehealth already exists, through large scale deployments such as the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States and the “Whole System Demonstrator Program” run by the UK Department of Health, the largest program of its type in the world.
The UK program found that Telehealth could deliver a 15 per cent reduction in emergency visits, a 20 per cent reduction in emergency admissions, a 14 per cent reduction in both hospital admissions and bed days and a 45 per cent reduction in mortality rates.
Ms Altman said just how effective early intervention can be is illustrated by a number of Telehealth projects now underway around Australia.
One trial for patients using in-home dialysis for renal failure has seen the number of patients presenting to hospital fall by nearly 50 per cent.
Rather than travelling to the hospital these patients are able to complete their dialysis at home, with the aid of in-home Telehealth equipment and video conferencing, sometimes saving up to 4 hours a day.
“MBS funded video consultations have improved the lives of the 47,000 patients who have consulted with a specialist in the last two years.”
“But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real potential that Telehealth has to dramatically reduce costs and improve the quality of health care available to all Australians, particularly in remote and rural areas,” she said.
For those with chronic conditions, Telehealth can also include remote patient monitoring which provides patients with the knowledge to manage their condition in the comfort of their own home, and allows for early detection of any changes in their condition.
The patient’s vital signs can be captured in accordance with the care plan through blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and other small medical devices that send the readings via Bluetooth to a smartphone or similar device to a central monitoring station.
The monitoring nurse – who is able to manage a workload of up to 250 patients – will be alerted if readings exceed the thresholds set for the individual patients and may request that the patient retake their readings, assess the impact of recent medication, food or exercise intake, or refer the patient to their GP for review.