Australia | 22 Jan 2012

A new $20.6 million telehealth program utilising the National Broadband Network (NBN) will provide new and innovative in-home telehealth services to older Australians, people living with cancer and those requiring palliative care.

Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the NBN Telehealth Pilot Program would deliver services to patients in NBN rollout areas and provide feedback on how this program and other health care measures can be delivered nationwide.

The speed, ubiquity and bandwidth of the NBN will enhance the reliability of bringing these services to Australians, ultimately transforming the way health care is delivered around the nation.

The existing telehealth program is already proving popular with Australian patients and doctors, making it easier for people to receive care and advice via videoconferencing when and where they need it.

Six months after the Government introduced Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations, uptake has grown steadily with more than 7,000 services provided by over 1,200 clinicians around Australia, mostly to rural and remote areas.

Telehealth is a cost effective, real-time and convenient alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care and advice. It removes many of the barriers, such as distance, time and cost, which prevent patients from accessing timely and appropriate healthcare services.

Over time, the NBN will provide an enhanced nationwide platform that allows homes, doctor surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals to connect to affordable, reliable, high-speed and high-capacity broadband.

Ms Plibersek said: “Today’s announcement brings together two of the Government’s key priorities – the NBN and providing patients with the care they need- when they need it and where they need it.

“The NBN Telehealth Pilot Program will provide to eligible participants in NBN early rollout areas a range of innovative services delivered through pilots funded under the program. These will include having health indicators monitored remotely – for instance, your doctor being able to take your blood pressure online while you are at home – or receiving medical consultations and healthy living support in the home.”

Mr Butler said that older Australians would stand to gain the most from the boost to telehealth services.
“As we age, health issues tend to be more prevalent and we’re much more likely to require care and support from a wider range of health professionals,” Mr Butler said.

“Expanding telehealth services to older Australians still living in their own homes will help health professionals identify potential health problems earlier, reduce the need for older Australians to travel to receive treatment and increase access to healthcare services and specialists.”

Senator Conroy said he expected successful pilots will commence providing services from 1 July under the NBN Telehealth Pilot Program.

“Telehealth will transform health care delivery in Australia. This trial will make a real difference to the lives of patients with high health care needs living in NBN early rollout areas, particularly those in regional, rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas,” he said.

Draft program guidelines for the telehealth pilot program have been released today for consultation. The guidelines can be accessed at http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ehealth-nbntelehealth-pilots Final guidelines will be released when applications open in February/March 2012.

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