Telehealth can achieve considerable health system efficiencies and reduce costs in a number of ways:
- Reducing visits to specialists
- Avoiding symptom exacerbations that lead to hospitalisations
- Decreasing the number of hospitalisations:
• Reducing potentially preventable hospitalisations
• Reducing emergency room visits
• Reducing nursing home admissions
• Keeping low-care residential patients in their homes
• Decreasing the burden on healthcare professionals
• Reducing patient transport costs.
Vital signs and remote monitoring maintain safety and improve patient care, decrease unnecessary follow up visits, address workforce shortages, contribute to a culture of sustainability in healthcare provision and offer potential savings to the healthcare budget. The Productivity Commissions report: Caring for Older Australians viewed technology as a way to provide better care in the home, more economically. MTAA strongly argues that the provision of care that enables individuals to be treated in the home environment is far more cost effective than all other alternatives. Numerous pilot studies have been undertaken in Australia with excellent outcomes; however there is no policy for scale or sustainability of telehealth services.
Early in 2012 the Federal Government identified ageing as a telehealth trail blazer. Comprehensive telehealth policy would fit with emerging priorities such as the Aged Care Reform plan and the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN). The Aged Care Reform plan aims to better link aged care and health systems and to assist projects with a focus on prevention of hospitalisation and improvements of multidisciplinary care models for older Australians. This is also inline with the $3.3m aged care telehealth program recently announced by the Federal Government which will provide patients in residential care facilities virtual access to GPs.
The roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will improve the delivery of telehealth solutions to remote regions of Australia . The mortality rate in remote areas of Australia has been reported as twice as high as in large cities . The Digital Regions Initiative has funded a wide range of telehealth trials and projects enabled by the NBN . These include a diabetes telehealth trial in Townsville and a home telehealth trial in NSW. Recently the Department of Health and Ageing invited interested parties to apply to funding for the NBN Enabled Telehealth Pilots Program which will demonstrate how the NBN will enhance telehealth capabilities such as services in the home for aged care, cancer care and palliative care .
For many Australians, comprehensive telehealth policy that provides access to assistive technologies, remote consultations, vital signs monitoring and remote monitoring of implantable medical devices would provide practical, reliable and affordable access to medical care in the home. There are a variety of courses of action that can be taken to provide telehealth services in a cost neutral manner or even realizing inherent cost savings to the Commonwealth budget.