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Virtual Health gives rural Australia access to specialists

By Robin Moustaka, BSN RN, Account Executive on April 14, 2017

Filed under Health

Graphic of a computer with a stethoscope

It all started small with some doctors and a video conferencing link—one doctor in Perth and a clinician maybe a doctor maybe a nurse in a far-flung outpost in rural Western Australia working together to treat patients who needed emergency care. That was the grassroots beginning of what’s now one of the largest, most advanced virtual health services in Australia.

When I was a practicing RN, my modus operandi was to be prepared for the worst-case scenario with my patients. In the countryside of Western Australia, when people get critically injured or ill—whether it’s a lacerated femoral artery from a farming accident, a heart attack or stroke, or a severe ear infection—they’re often thousands of kilometers away from a metropolitan emergency room (ER). The closest medical facility they can get to may be a nursing station—with one nurse. That nurse likely has a wide range of skills, but sometimes very acute patients require the expertise of emergency medicine specialists. So patients’ worst-case scenario is not having access to the ER doctors they need and regional clinicians’ worst-case scenario is not having the support they need to treat the patients who show up at their door.

To help minimize these worst-case scenarios, Western Australia’s Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS) is now at more than 70 hospitals, health services, and nursing posts across the Wheatbelt, Great Southern, Goldfields, South West, Kimberley, Pilbara, and Midwest regions of Australia.

Skype for Business is part of the solution including remote-controlled cameras where specialists and emergency medicine doctors in Perth can examine, consult, talk to patients, and guide local clinical staff at regional hospitals and nursing posts through effective medical emergency treatments.

Virtual health is also being used for outpatient consultations. For example, if a patient is recovering from surgery or acute burn wounds, they’ve already had to incur travel expenses and time away from work and family to go to a metropolitan hospital for treatment. Rather than having to make the trip again and again for follow up, they can receive virtual outpatient consultations with their orthopedic or plastic surgeon closer to home in a regional medical facility.

With virtual health, the Western Australia Country Health Service is increasing access to high-quality, safe services for people in remote communities. By scaling the expertise of doctors in metropolitan medical centers, it’s providing people in rural regions with better care where they live. And it’s empowering regional clinicians with the guidance and support they need for the wide array of medical problems they’re tasked with treating.

The success of Western Australia’s virtual health program is a testament to the power of grassroots innovation. Modern technology including the cloud, provide a platform where you needn’t overcook ideas. You can start small, manage risks to try an approach. If it works, you can then scale it. If you need to adjust your approach, starting small provides the agility for you to quickly do so.

What started as a small pilot initiative with videoconferencing has grown into a program that’s empowering better health for individuals and communities across Western Australia. Small starts can lead to big impact.

What’s your small start, big impact idea? Let us know via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

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