Telehealth limited by connectivity - Not technology

Date published

19 Feb 2019

Today, RFDS CEO Dr Martin Laverty spoke at the AFR Healthcare Summit to discuss the challenges that are preventing the RFDS from harnessing new technologies to advance telehealth services. 

Telehealth is no new feat. The Flying Doctor has been doing it for over 90 years. Established with Alfred Traeger’s pedal radio that connected those in the bush to a doctor, telehealth now forms the core of the RFDS service with 88,188 telehealth consultations delivered in the last year.

Currently, mobile and satellite phones make up the majority of RFDS telehealth consultations but new technology exists that could improve RFDS telehealth services to be far more comprehensive. However RFDS service delivery is limited by connectivity ‘black spots’ in many locations.  

The potential benefits of technology like ‘Doctor in a Box’ are undeniable. ‘Doctor in a Box’ is a telehealth device that uses various attachments, including cameras, lights, tongue depressors and mole scopes to assist the doctor perform a comprehensive patient assessment remotely.

RFDS CEO, Dr Martin Laverty says “Secure, advanced telehealth platforms like this allow for more comprehensive consultations, earlier diagnosis and better access to specialists. Whilst the technology exists, we can’t use it until reliable broadband connection is established across country Australia.”

In the next ten years chronic illness is expected to increase by 15.6% and much of the burden will fall on rural areas. Telehealth technology will be critical to provide continuity of care to patients in rural and remote areas and earlier diagnosis will reduce the burden on hospitals and the number of RFDS emergency retrievals. Broadband must be available in the bush to be prepared for the future health needs of country Australia.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service was founded with the innovation of aeromedicine and telehealth. Recently the RFDS have seen great advancements in the delivery of aeromedicine with the world’s first aeromedical jet joining the fleet of 71 RFDS aircraft. Similar advancements in telehealth cannot be harnessed without effective broadband.