Telehealth service in rural Australian Hospitals and its impact on key performance indicators in the health care service

Queen OkerekeA*, Nirjhar NandiA

ADepartment of Medicine, Cairns Hospital, Cairns, Australia

Aim: To assess if telehealth can be useful in delivering high quality of care to inpatients in our peripheral hospitals while ensuring patient safety is not compromised

 

Objective:

To evaluate the effectiveness of telehealth services  in 3 Australian rural hospitals at reducing the length of stay and interhospital transfer of reviewed patients.

 

Background:

The availability of telehealth services in rural and remote Australian hospitals have been found to be useful in increasing the clinical expertise of the rural health practitioners. They also provide opportunities for professional development with the continual contact with the specialists during their service delivery1. Furthermore, telehealth services at such communities were helpful at bridging the health gap in our rural and remote communities.

However, not too much interest had been directed on the beneficial effects of this service especially in the key performance indicators such as length of stay or the cost benefit of preventable interhospital transfers.

 

Results:

A one year review was made of all the patients seen through our telehealth service to 3 peripheral rural hospitals in the Cairns and Hinterland region in Far North Queensland. A total number of 1142 patients were seen during the study period from July 2015 to June 2016. The majority of the patient were from Mareeba hospital (1074) followed by Mossman and Babinda hospital with the number of reviewed patients being 50 and 18 respectively. The uneven distribution of patients was because Mossman and Babinda hospitals were included in our service later on. The Overall length of stay was reduced in 412(36%) of the total patients. The overall number of admissions to Cairns Hospital prevented was 808 (71%).

 

Conclusion:

This study suggests the effectiveness of telehealth in reducing length of stay of inpatients in rural Australian hospital setting. It has also proved useful in preventing interhospital transfers which is advantageous to the patients as well as has a cost benefit to the hospitals. This finding supports other studies2-4, which showed that telehealth helps in reducing preventable hospitalization and hence providing cost saving.

Further studies would be needful to assess the impact of telehealth and its cost benefits in the outpatient general medicine setting.

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