Telehealth: Helping to bridge the health care gap in rural and remote Australia
Accessing specialist health care in rural or remote Australia can be challenging, but there are options such as telehealth that can help ensure the health of your kids.
Limitless space, skies littered with stars and spectacular sunsets are some of the main selling points for bringing your kids up in rural or remote Australia.
Unfortunately one down side is that access to local specialist health support can be a problem.
Thankfully, technology is helping to bridge the gap and bring support to families raising children outside metropolitan areas.
Australia leading the way
Australia has a long history of innovative long-distance health care.
As early as the 1920s, John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, used radio to bring essential health support to some of the country’s most remote communities, and Australia has continued to lead the way ever since.
Telehealth has been used in Australia for more than 15 years to bring specialised health support to rural or remote areas where there can be challenges in having permanent health specialists.
Although telehealth doesn’t replace the need for face-to-face consultations, the use of telephone, videoconferencing, email and the internet to deliver health and care has ever-expanding potential.
Don’t underestimate the value of the telephone, says Dr Rob Grenfell, National Medical Director of Bupa.
“I’ve worked in rural practices for most of my career, and most of us think we need the latest and greatest technology, but a telephone is pretty damn good. We can do a lot of things by phone, and I would say we’re still not using phone technology as much as we should.”
Telehealth programs help people in rural and remote areas access many different health professionals that they wouldn’t normally have access to unless they drove or flew for miles.
“One of my favorite examples of telehealth bridging the gap is a pioneering speech therapy program developed by the Royal Far West, where children living in remote and rural areas can take part in regular speech therapy sessions via Skype with a speech pathologist who is based in Sydney,” says Dr Grenfell.
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Dr Grenfell stresses that most of the kids who take part in this program probably wouldn’t have access to a speech pathologist if it wasn’t for this program.
“This is a real shame as access to a speech pathologist for a child with a speaking impediment, can be life-changing. A speaking impediment is a serious hindrance to a child’s development, to both language acquisition and self-esteem, and if it’s not treated it can substantially influence their adult life.”
Living in rural or remote areas can present challenges to parents raising children with health problems. However, advances in technology have great potential to help bridge this gap — and this means that families can continue to reside in the less frequented parts of our vast country without the fear that they’re putting their child’s health at a disadvantage.