Technology to boost access to healthcare

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The first step in providing easier access to medical specialists for Eastern Southland residents was taken this week with a videoconferencing education session being held in Gore.
Gore Health and Gore Medical Centre staff, along with Te Anau medical staff, joined the session hosted by WellSouth in Invercargill.
WellSouth chief information officer Kyle Forde said a trial of the technology, known as telehealth, was running on Stewart Island.
‘‘They don’t have a GP there,’’ Mr Forde said.
While Gore hosted an education session, the same technology could be used to provide specialist services to patients in Eastern Southland.
Telehealth offered rural areas such as Gore the option of providing a host of medical specialists to take part in the technological consulting technique, which would mean neither the specialist nor the patient would have to travel long distances to appointments, Mr Forde said.
‘‘If I had to sum it up, it’s really about providing better access to health,’’ he said.
If Gore Health implemented the consulting system, it could mean people would not have to travel to centres such as Dunedin for appointments with specialists in areas such as oncology, he said.
The implementation of telehealth consultation was a global trend, he said.
The technology was used in Australia in remote areas.
Gore Hospital chief executive Karl Metzler said if telehealth consultation was implemented in Gore, it would help alleviate shortages in medical staff and would have significant benefits for patients.
The prospect of providing not only telehealth services but educational sessions was ‘‘quite exciting’’, Mr Metzler said.
Mr Metzler was working with the Southern District Health Board to implement telehealth outpatient clinics. He envisaged fracture clinics could be one of the first services to use telehealth.
It could be a two-hour round trip for patients to travel to Invercargill to fracture clinics and they could wait for two hours to be seen by the specialists for a short consultation, Mr Metzler said.
The implementation of the telehealth system could eliminate travel and waiting time as well as the loss of work productivity, he said.
Mr Metzler stressed the implementation of the system was in the very early stages but he hoped to have made progress in the next few months.
‘‘It’s very positive,’’ he said.
Gore Hospital administration manager Fiona Marsh said this week was the first time the technology had been used for an education session.
Mrs Marsh envisaged that in the future the technology could be used for outpatient clinics at the hospital.
The technology had advanced to a point where the picture was very clear and allowed for enhanced interaction between the patient and specialist, she said.
The technology would be especially useful for followup appointments and would cut down the travel time.