CSIRO Data61 and Health Team Australia deliver telehealth solution to rural patients

Health Team Australia will be using CSIRO Data61's telehealth solution Coviu to connect healthcare practitioners to up to 20,000 Australians living in rural or remote areas.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

CSIRO's Data61 and regional allied health network Health Team Australia (HTA) have teamed up to make healthcare more accessible to Australians in rural, remote, and regional areas.

Coviu, a telehealth solution developed by Data61, is expected to connect up to 20,000 patients with allied healthcare professionals in HTA's network.

The online video communication platform was developed using WebRTC to connect healthcare practitioners and patients natively through Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers rather than via a dedicated application. In addition to enabling real-time video communication, Coviu allows practitioners to live-share medical data and images.

The service will be offered to patients via HTA's partners across Australia, with non-for-profit YMCA having already begun delivering the service to metropolitan communities in Victoria, NSW, and ACT, and now extending it to Australians who don't have access to a local YMCA.

According to CSIRO, nearly 50 percent of Australians suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer, mental illness, and diabetes, with a further 13 million at risk of developing chronic disease.

A 2016 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicates that total expenditure on health -- recurrent and capital expenditure combined -- has grown each year from AU$95 billion in 2003-04 to an estimated AU$155 billion in 2013-14.

One in Four Lives, an industry initiative developed by organisations including the AIIA, Medibank Private, Philips, and the University of Western Sydney, believes healthcare costs will consume more than 100 percent of the entire revenue collected by the states by 2046, according to its One in Four Lives: The Future of Telehealth in Australia report [PDF].

"A 'perfect storm' of an ageing health workforce, the rising incidence of chronic conditions, and increased expectations of both consumers and healthcare professionals is contributing to unprecedented demand on our health system," it says in the report.

CSIRO Data61 said access to primary healthcare practitioners who can deliver lifestyle interventions is key to addressing these challenges, and that Australians living in remote and regional areas are disadvantaged by limited access to help. This is not helped by less than 4 percent of health practitioners in private practice currently providing telehealth services to their patients, according to 2016 Medicare statistics.

"Approximately 10 percent of the Australian population is spread across 90 percent of its area, and these people have poor access to medical specialists that's taken for granted in large metropolitan areas," Coviu project director Dr Silvia Pfeiffer said. "There is a real need to make video consultations a standard delivery mechanism of health services across Australia."

In May 2016, Data61 signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese health service importer SunWo that would see SunWo license Coviu and collaborate with Data61 to improve the digital availability of Australian health professionals in China.

In August 2016, HealthKit -- a cloud-­based platform combining practice management software for private healthcare practitioners with an integrated directory and portal for patients to track and manage their health -- announced that it would integrate Coviu into its platform to provide video consultation capability to 15,000 Australian healthcare practitioners.

In December, the Turnbull government and CSIRO launched a AU$200 million fund as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda to commercialise early-stage innovations from CSIRO, universities, and other publicly-funded research bodies.

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