Hunter leads health technology

A STRATEGY to increase use of telecommunications technology in healthcare has placed the Hunter as a national leader in the telehealth field, authorities say.

Video conferencing, image sharing and other such initiatives are being used daily in the Hunter New England Local Health District.

Telehealth describes the delivery of health services and information via telecommunications technologies.

Hunter New England Health innovation support director Jane Gray said the aim was to improve access for people to health services, regardless of where they lived.

"What's wonderful is we can reduce travel for patients and families and clinicians," she said.

"It saves precious time."

Telehealth was being used in four key areas: tele-critical care to share emergency medical advice; tele-ambulatory care in community clinics and health centres to reduce patient and clinician travel; tele-home-based care to support patients with chronic conditions at home; and tele-workforce support for education and training.

Ms Gray said Hunter New England Health was a leader among state health districts.

Operations director Scott McLachlan said telehealth's uptake within Hunter New England Health was widespread.

"It's literally being used every day," he said.

About five years ago, Newcastle emergency departments developed systems to support smaller hospitals in Cessnock and Nelson Bay.

"That's been very successful in saving a whole range of lives," Mr McLachlan said.

"We've now rolled out 25 cameras to small hospital emergency departments, which lets specialists from Tamworth and John Hunter [in Newcastle] look at patients in critical condition."

Mr McLachlan said telehealth was not appropriate for some services, such as paediatrics or counselling, where personal interaction was required to build confidence.

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