Telehealth initiative a success in WA: RACGP

The scheme offers GPs a one-off payment of $6000 to provide their first telehealth consultation to patients

Australia’s peak body of general practitioners (GPs) has given the Federal Government a pat on the back following the implementation of its telehealth incentive scheme last July, labelling the project a success in Western Australia.

The scheme, which operates under the government’s $620 million telehealth initiative, offers GPs who provide videolink consultations to patients in remote areas a $6000 one-off incentive payment to provide their first telehealth consultation to patients. The scheme also provides Medicare rebates to both city specialists and healthcare professionals who are physically with their patients during consultations.

To encourage bulk billing for services, the scheme also offers practitioners an extra $20 for each videolink service charged in that manner for the 12 months from 1 July.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said the initiative has broken down distance and cost barriers for rural and remote patients and enabled them access to a greater range of subsidised consultations.

RACGP WA Faculty Chair, Associate Professor Frank Jones, said video consultations and short message services (SMS) were integral to making healthcare accessible to all Australians.

“Western Australia’s vast geographical area lends itself to wide population dispersion, with a large proportion of the community residing outside of major metropolitan hubs,” Jones said in a statement. “Patients who previously had to drive hundreds of kilometres to receive healthcare, can now ‘see’ their doctor via video conference from the convenience of their own home.”

However, RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce chairman, Dr Mike Civil, said the full range of telehealth benefits have not yet been realised, along with opportunities for telehealth to expand into aged care facilities and into the homes of those living with disabilities.

“For many members of the community, including the elderly and disabled, travelling large distances to receive healthcare is not always an option,” Civil said in a statement. “This also goes both ways, with GPs not always able to complete regular home or community visits when time and resources are limited.”

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New study: The world is ready for mobile healthcare

(Barcelona / Oslo – February 28, 2012) Based on the explosive growth in global mobile phone penetration, a technology revolution is quickly gaining pace in healthcare. Around the world, healthcare systems are overburdened, costly and incapable of meeting the needs of a growing population. According to a new study from The Boston Consulting Group and Telenor Group, mobile health technology can offer sizeable benefits to all countries, lead to economic growth and promise a better life for individuals.

Among the key findings:

  • The necessary infrastructure is already in everyone’s hands: 7.4 billion mobile subscriptions projected by 2015
  • The technology richness and network capacity is sufficient, both on simple feature phones and on smart devices
  • Currently, more than 500 mobile health projects are taking place around the world
  • Costs in elderly care can be reduced by 25% with mobile healthcare
  • Maternal and perinatal mortality can be reduced by 30%
  • Twice as many rural patients can be reached per doctor
  • Tuberculosis treatment compliance can be improved by 30-70%
  • 30% of smartphone users are likely to use “wellness apps” by 2015
  • Costs related to data collection can be reduced by 24%
  • Smartphone is the most popular technology among doctors since the stethoscope

The study “Socio-Economic Impact of mHealth ” – commissioned by Telenor Group and carried out by The Boston Consulting Group –  is a comprehensive survey of the impact that mHealth initiatives can have in 12 countries. The countries are grouped into three clusters, each with a different set of primary healthcare challenges. Where countries in one cluster primarily face challenges with non-communicable diseases and quickly growing system costs, countries in another cluster struggle with maternal/child health, communicable diseases and limited access to health care. What unites them all is that mobile health technology can improve the quality, reach and effectiveness of services while reducing costs and the overall system burden.

Telenor Group has launched a number of mobile health initiatives across its markets. In Norway, an assisted living project helps the elderly stay longer at home through mobile alarm systems. In Thailand, a mobile text messaging service provides epidemic surveillance. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, a service called Healthline provides patients with a simple number to dial for both serious and non-serious medical needs.  In India, mothers can obtain critical information about prenatal health via their phones. In Montenegro, a joint project with the EU provides a service for remotely located elderly people, enabled by one touch on a button on their mobile handset. In Serbia, mobile health technology is used to increase the quality of medical registration and reporting for the Roma community.

Action is needed

“Mobile health is already a reality, with hundreds of projects launched worldwide. However, many projects are struggling with achieving scale. Both regulatory actions and ecosystem collaboration is required to create the necessary scale. We need to commit to common standards, increase access to mobile services and document the impact of mobile health. Finally,
Governments can use their procurement processes to drive further innovation in mobile health services,” says Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and CEO, Telenor Group.

“The technological development and successful pilots around the world demonstrate that the time for mHealth has come. Accelerating adoption will require orchestrating multiple stakeholders, including the alignment of incentives for healthcare professionals to adopt mHealth,” says Knut Haanæs, Global Leader, Sustainability Practice, The Boston Consulting Group.