Researchers strive to expand telehealth cover to remote populations 

04:00 PM, 11 May, 2024
Researchers strive to expand telehealth cover to remote populations 

Researchers, healthcare providers, and consumers explore the workings of telehealth across northern Queensland, with a broader objective of increasing the use of digital health technologies and enhancing access to healthcare for rural and remote residents.

The initiative is led by Prof Sarah Larkins from James Cook University. With over 700,000 people scattered across its 950,000 square kilometers, northern Queensland has long embraced telehealth. However, according to Prof Larkins, there's a glaring lack of guidance on when and how to effectively deploy telehealth in rural, regional, and remote (RRR) communities, including ensuring the safety and quality of care.

Thanks to a new grant of nearly a million dollars from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Prof Larkins and her team will start mapping the existing telehealth usage. "Through this mapping process, we aim to extract key information about current telehealth practices and collaborate with patients and healthcare providers to enhance them," she explains.

The ultimate aim is to develop a comprehensive roadmap for telehealth implementation, providing guidance to both healthcare providers and service users, she adds.

The potential impact of this research extends far beyond northern Queensland. "We anticipate that the insights gained from our study will be relevant and beneficial to other RRR communities across the nation," Prof Larkins says.

She says that while telehealth has demonstrated clinical effectiveness and safety and enjoys widespread acceptance among consumers and clinicians, there are still valuable lessons to be learned. 

Prof Larkins cited the example of Norway, where despite early adoption and policy support, telehealth uptake for hospital outpatient appointments remains low. Understanding the underlying reasons for adoption, non-adoption, and abandonment is crucial, particularly in the context of northern Queensland, she stresses.

"If we can pinpoint the barriers to telehealth access, we can develop tailored solutions to ensure equitable healthcare access for all Australians, regardless of their geographical location," Prof Larkins concluded.

The ambitious project is set to unfold over five years, with the potential to reshape healthcare delivery in rural and remote regions across the country.