Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Nov-Dec 2016 Contents Rural and remote care
Telehealth helps narrow the gap
People living in rural and regional
areas continue to have shorter life
expectancies than those living in
cities, higher levels of illness and
increased levels of disease risk factors.
Similarly, Aboriginal Australians have poorer
access to health services, are more likely to be
hospitalised for most diseases and conditions,
and have a lower life expectancy on average.
In an attempt to tackle these long-
standing health inequities, aged care provider
integratedliving has turned to technology, and
telehealth, in particular.
"The organisation sought to harness the
opportunities that were being made available
through the NBN in order to empower ageing
Aboriginal Australians to better manage their
own health conditions, remain connected and
reduce the potential for social isolation," says
CEO Catherine Daley.
integratedliving developed and piloted the
Staying Strong project, which uses telehealth to
provide vital health sign monitoring to clients
living at home.
WHAT WAS INVOLVED?
Some 136 older Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Australians took part in a pilot of the
initiative, which ran from January 2013 to
High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and
high blood cholesterol were the top three
chronic health conditions being monitored.
"The pilot illustrated how telehealth
monitoring could enable timely GP visits,
specialist referrals and medication review,
prevent unplanned hospitalisation, shorten
hospital stays and increase awareness leading to
self-management of chronic health conditions
and lifestyle changes," says Daley.
As a result of the positive outcomes of
the pilot, the organisation is now delivering a
standardised telehealth monitoring program,
which it describes as a strength-based,
consumer-directed and individualised program.
The program is developed and led by a local
nurse in conjunction with the consumer's GP
and health service.
WHAT HAVE THE OUTCOMES BEEN?
"A key outcome has been an increase in
participants' knowledge and awareness of
their health conditions, the factors that impact
on these and effective self-management
strategies," says Daley.
This includes increased capacity on the part
of participants to discuss details of their health
conditions, such as their own normal range for
blood glucose level, and to take appropriate action
when a reading was outside this range, she says.
"The availability of vital health sign data
and the access to the telehealth RN's advice
also enabled some participants to take a more
targeted approach to GP visits, and to reduce
the number of routine visits."
Participants' increased understanding
and awareness of the direct links between
lifestyle choices -- for example, related to
eating, drinking and smoking -- and vital health
sign readings has empowered participants to
moderate their behaviours.
"The telehealth model facilitated accurate
and timely diagnosis of health conditions.
The daily monitoring of vital health signs data
enabled the RNs to identify potential and
actual health issues and to intervene early,
advising participants to visit their GP or medical
specialist when necessary," says Daley.
Comparisons showed the remote telehealth
monitoring model cost less than half of the face-
to-face approach, demonstrating that telehealth
is a cost-effective way to deliver better health
outcomes for people living in regional, rural and
remote Australia, Daley says.
Through the project, the organisation identified
the need to build strong relationships, especially
within the Aboriginal community and with
Aboriginal Health services, says Daley.
"Another major lesson was the importance
of having a collaborative approach to telehealth
monitoring. Monitoring plans developed by GPs
led to increased compliance," she says.
One of the challenges faced by the project
was finding the right person for the job, both
clinical and project support. The organisation
says that different recruitment strategies were
implemented and word of mouth played a critical
role in recruitment.
"Have a team who understand what you
are trying to achieve and have the skills and
capabilities. Key performance indicators are
different for innovation projects, knowing when
your project is succeeding or failing, and adapt
early. Build relationships and partnerships and
learn from your mistakes," she says.
Earlier this year, integratedliving Australia
won a Better Practice award in recognition of its
Staying Strong initiative.
of vital signs
is one way
of helping to
faced by older
in rural and
integratedliving's telehealth program is
developed and led by a local nurse in
conjunction with the consumer's GP.
www.australianageingagenda.com.au | 39
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