While face-to-face, in-person interactions will always continue to play a key role in the delivery of healthcare services, it’s time we got serious about adding face-to-face screen based interactions into the healthcare mix.
Australia is ideally placed to embrace telehealth. We have an extremely small population in global terms spread across a broad geographic landscape, and access to healthcare regularly involves significant travel and time, even for those who live in major metropolitan areas.
There’s been a range of telehealth pilots and initiatives, but the majority that I have seen tend to involve a cumbersome set up on a ‘telehealth trolley’ or in the special ‘telehealth room,’ with the end result being that they are often rarely utilised as they don’t easily integrate into people’s regular work patterns. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of examples of medical practitioners doing a fantastic job of delivering services via telehealth, particularly into remote and regional areas, but I think it’s very fair to say that it still doesn’t play a regular role in day to day activity for the majority of practitioners. And let’s not even get started on pharmacy, where user scenarios which see pharmacists engaging with their patients in this manner are virtually non-existent at this point.
The exact opposite is the case in our personal and broader business lives. Regular readers of this blog will be aware I travel a lot and video conversations are a huge enabler for me staying connected with family and colleagues. I FaceTime Stuart and the kids whenever I get the chance when I’m away and regularly participate in business meetings with colleagues from all over the world via Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting and so on. The style of conversation which occurs over a video link is vastly different to that which takes place via a phone call, and definitely delivers an increased level of engagement.
When we started looking for a telehealth solution for Epic Pharmacy to engage with patients and colleagues, we were adamant it had to deliver all of the accessibility and ease of use benefits that these lifestyle tools did, with the added requirement of ensuring that, due to the confidential nature of health conversations, the appropriate security and privacy safeguards were in place.
It was important too that the conversations could take place in locations that were convenient and easily accessible. We were adamant that, as with other lifestyle videoconferencing tools, all parties had to be able to engage using both the technology and the location that suited them.
With those criteria non-negotiable, it should come as no surprise that the solution that we have settled on is one that we found in the US, which is app-based and accessible using a wide range of devices: iPhones, iPads, Android devices, PCs, laptops — even Google Glass. It’s fully HIPAA compliant (HIPAA referring to the US regulation designed to protect personal information and data stored in medical records, generally viewed as the ‘gold standard’ for privacy and security guidelines for health technology).
Once we had identified the technology we wanted to work with, there were no shortage of user scenarios.
We recognised that our patients who are undertaking chemotherapy could benefit from a consultation about their medication regime with one of our specialty oncology pharmacists. Cancer treatment nearly always involves travel to a specialist facility and patients can easily get information overload while meeting with the various members of their treatment team. Being able to schedule a video call with a highly trained oncology specialist pharmacist can assist with better informing them on what to expect and how to best manage potential side effects and also easily allows them to include other family members in the conversation if they wish.
We will be implementing peer-to-peer mentoring for our 2015 pre-registration pharmacists, connecting them with their more experienced colleagues from around the country and are confident that this will quickly expand into a broader mentoring and leadership development program.
Our aged care pharmacists will use the tool to engage in face-to-face conversations with both the staff and residents at residential care facilities, increasing their accessibility enormously.
We also see a really strong role in training, with team members able to undertake assessments and illustrate their understanding via mechanisms other than writing down answers or ticking multi-choice boxes. Once Google Glass is readily available in Australia, the opportunity extends even further, with tasks such as the reconstitution of oncology products able to assessed using video recorded via Glass’ hands free functionality.
These are just a few of the first utilisations we are looking at. Every conversation we have with our Epic team throws up more potential, and once patients join in those conversations this will grow exponentially.
Telehealth has been a buzzword in healthcare for an extended period of time, but the time has come to stop talking about its potential and get on with making it a regular part of everyday healthcare access. The technology is here and we think the opportunity is epic!