Two of the first mainland release sites under the National Broadband Network (NBN) will receive telehealth monitoring units in coming months, as part of a $4 million trial conducted by NSW Health.
As part of the trial, telehealth monitoring units and videoconferencing systems will be installed in homes and primary healthcare clinics of veterans with chronic diseases and those aged over 65 in the sites of Armidale and Kiama Downs. Under the rollout of the NBN, each of the sites are expected to encompass up to 6000 premises connected to speeds of up to one gigabit per second (Gbps).
The federally funded project was announced by communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, this week at an e-health conference hosted by the Department of Health and Ageing and is expected to determine the benefits of greater bandwidth afforded by the NBN for telehealth and other e-health systems.
“These trials lay a clear pathway for long-term systemic adoption of telehealth in the delivery of aged care,” he said.
“I’m really relieved and proud that the NBN will help people stay at home, as they clearly want to, while also reducing the size of projected increases in our healthcare budget.”
During his announcement, Conroy urged broadband and particularly the NBN’s capability to ensure better e-health systems while becoming a solution to hurdles such as poor distribution of healthcare workers across remote and rural Australia and the rising costs of aged care.
“We know high speed broadband will be the foundation of future productivity, growth and international competitiveness,” he said.
“It will revolutionise the way health services can be delivered to people in their homes.”
KPMG Australia head of healthcare and former chief executive of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, Shane Solomon, agreed that “having very wide pipes is important”.
“The number one issue for clinicians was we said it might be 1.5 seconds [response time] moving to a web-based [system] and that’s a very big concern. You will not survive on a wireless approach,” he said, pointing to the bandwidth required to deliver 3.5 million updates daily to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority’s electronic health system with response times of under a second.
The Gillard Government has already announced several e-health trials off the back of the NBN, including neurological therapy through the use of the Nintendo Wii and more than $400 million in rebates for use of telehealth and GP consultations by videoconference from 1 July 2012.
A National ICT Australia (NICTA) study into telemedicine found high-speed bandwidth was necessary to ensure proper implementation of such systems, but urged stakeholders to consider purpose-fit solutions over off-the-shelf hardware.
The report also pointed to regulation, lack of interoperability between standards and poor usability as key barriers to wide uptake of telehealth.