Wednesday, 31 August 2016 02:23

Telehealth could save healthcare system $3 billion, says CSIRO

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Telehealth nurse shows patient how to use home monitoring system Telehealth nurse shows patient how to use home monitoring system

Australia’s first large-scale trial of telehealth has shown that the healthcare system could save up to $3 billion a year, according to the CSIRO which trialled telehealth systems with 287 patients over a 12-month period.

The research, undertaken by the CSIRO together with partners, showed savings of 24% over the year to the healthcare system made through falls in the number and cost of GP visits, specialist visits and procedures.

CSIRO lead researcher Dr Rajiv Jayasena said the trial enabled patients with chronic diseases to self-manage their conditions at home through the provision of telehealth services.

“Aged patients with multiple chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic lung disease account for more than 70% of our health system expenditure,” Dr Jayasena said.

“In addition to a 24% savings of Medical Benefits Scheme expenditure over one year, the trial also showed a substantial 36% decrease in hospital admission and, most importantly, a 42% reduction in length of stay if admitted to hospital during the 12-month trial.

“This is a huge saving when you consider the cost of a hospital bed per day is estimated to be about $2051 in Australia," Dr Jayasena said.

The trial found that patients also had a reduced mortality rate of more than 40%.

Test patients were provided with a telehealth device that included participant/clinician video conferencing capabilities, messaging features and the delivery of clinical and study specific questionnaires, as well as vital signs devices to monitor their ECG, heart rate, spirometry, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, body weight and body temperature, with glucometry an optional add-on.

And, according to the CSIRO, patients on the trial have reported improvements in anxiety, depression and quality of life, with many finding that home monitoring gave them a better understanding of their conditions.

Health workers can assess changes in their patient’s conditions remotely and provide appropriate care interventions earlier to help them stay out of hospital.

Dr Jayasena cited the experience of Jack Fernihough, a participant in the trial, who attributed the telehealth technology to saving his life when it picked up the early signs his heart was under increased stress, which allowed him to receive life-saving surgery.

“In April this year I had a triple bypass and without the monitor we wouldn’t have known that there was anything seriously wrong,” Fernihough said.

“It found out things about my heart that I wouldn’t have known about until it was too late and I’d probably be gone by now."

Dr Jayasena says more than 500,000 Australians aged over 65 would be good candidates for at-home telemonitoring.

“Our research showed the return on investment of a telemonitoring initiative on a national scale would be in the order of five to one by reducing demand on hospital inpatient and outpatient services, reduced visits to GPs, reduced visits from community nurses and an overall reduced demand on increasingly scarce clinical resources,” he concluded.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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