Telehealth improves access to care for rural communities

Bay of Plenty District Health Board started trialling a telehealth service for some of its rural community in 2013. It enables clinical consultations to take place in remote areas through the use of video conferencing.

Telehealth in action - Renal nurses from left, Ruth Heath, Sharon Birchall and Terry Jennings.  Dr E Tan is about to consult with the patient on far right.

Te Kaha connects

Phillipa Callaghan, practice manager at Te Kaha Medical Centre says the practice has two cameras that link to Cisco Jabber for telehealth appointments.

The practice area is 150km wide so involves a number of outreach clinics.

At the Waihau clinic, which is visited weekly by the practice GP, a nurse can request a telehealth consultation on another day if they want some advice or the GP needs to see a patient problem such as a wound.

The practice also uses telehealth to connect externally to other DHB services such as nurse educators, for patients’ follow-up appointments.

In this case, the patient will be with a nurse in an outreach clinic and connect to a specialist nurse – such as oxygen or bariatric - based in Tauranga or Whakatane Hospitals.

“It saves patients having to travel more than three hours to meet with someone for less than half an hour,” says Ms Callaghan.

“We come at it from the angle that it’s very patient centric and we want this for our patients.”

It can also reduce the number of Did Not Attends as it makes it easier for patients to see their clinicians.

Ms Callaghan says telehealth could potentially replace a wider range of patient appointments, but the difficulty is in getting the technology picked up by other DHB services

“We are ready and waiting, it’s about having somebody at the other end to connect to.”

Dialysis patients benefit from video conferencing

BoP DHB’s renal service uses satellite clinics that are attended by consultants based at Waikato Hospital.

Terry Jennings, renal service clinical nurse manager, says the clinics have been using telehealth since 2014, benefitting both patients and staff.

They hold a telehealth clinic once a month where around eight patients are seen via video link. Nursing staff can arrange ad hoc consultations on other days if they are with a patient and need some advice from a consultant.

A dietician at Waikato Hospital also does a virtual ward round at the Tauranga clinic, talking to patients on a laptop computer.

These services mean clinical issues are addressed more rapidly and patients are saved from doing 4-5 hour round trips to Waikato Hospital for appointments.

Ms Jennings says patients are very happy with the service and older patients in particular have embraced the concept of virtual appointments.

Staff also benefit by using telehealth for education and meetings, while also being upskilled by attending the telehealth clinics with patients, she adds.

Back to top