Australian government launches telehealth initiative
The visit is funded by AusAID and arranged by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. The team of Dr Brian Costello (surgeon), Dr Anthony White (anaesthetist), Mr Simon Davies (audiologist) and Denise Whelan (nurse) will provide free consultations and treatment for Solomon Islanders between 4 14 February 2013. Patients with ear and hearing problems, tonsil, throat and neck conditions, as well as nasal and sinus problems may be treated by the medical team. Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Matt Anderson said the annual ENT visit gives Solomon Islanders the chance for specialist consultations and treatment not available in country. They provide specialist advice and treatment not generally available in Honiara as well as provide local staff with a great training opportunity, Mr Anderson said. They make a difference to the people they treat and operate on and they also boost the skills of the local surgeons, doctors and nurses at the hospital, Mr Anderson said. The ENT visit is one of several specialist medical visits made every year to Solomon Islands and is an important part of the Australian aid program to Solomon Islands. The Australian Government currently funds around 50 surgical team visits to Pacific Island countries every year to fill gaps in local medical services and provides on-the-job training to local medical staff. For more information about the visit and screening to see the medical team, contact the surgical department at the National Referral Hospital.
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The initiative which Gillard had promised to enact during her election campaign last year has the backing of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), which said it has real potential to improve access to specialists for rural and remote Australians. Currently many rural patients are forced to travel hundreds and even thousands of kilometers for specialist consultations, given the significant shortage of specialists in rural and regional Australia RDAA Vice President Peter Rischbieth told reporters. These patients face significant travel and accommodation costs, and long periods of time away from work, in getting to and from these consultations, which can be required at regular intervals for many conditions. But while offering incentives to providers to implement the technology and rebates to physicians, nurses and midwives for their time spent in consultations, the real question remains: Will providers see enough of a benefit to continue offering telehealth services after the government support dries up? As part of her National Digital Economy Strategy, Gillard is pushing for roughly 500,000 telehealth consultations per year within four years a process expected to be made easier as the nation moves to adopt a National Broadband Network. “The NBN should provide us high availability, high speed connections, which will allow us to conduct both video consultations, look at images such as radiology images and also, with high definition cameras, be able to see high definition images the same as watching a high definition television,” said Nathan Pinskier, a general practitioner in Melbourne who serves as the e-health spokesman for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. ‘Tyranny of distance’ While Pinskier was speaking to an Australian television station on Thursday, Gillard, in Darwin in the northern part of the country, and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, far to the south in Adelaide, were demonstrating a telemedicine consult to reporters and film crews. The interviews were part of a flurry of television, print and web news stories released to promote todays launch of the initiative. “I think the change is probably going to be an incremental one but, over time as we understand the utility of telehealth and how it fits into practice, it will make some substantial differences, particularly for patients and consumers in rural and remote locations, where they suffer the tyranny of distance,” Pinskier said. According to the RACGP, 96 percent of the nations doctors use computers for some clinical purpose. To that end, the organization urged its members not to rush out and buy telehealth equipment until it can complete an implementation guide. The group is also working on a set of telehealth standards for its members, which it expects to complete in October.