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Telehealth’s 10-year leap in 10 days: Reshaping hospital EDs

Health Industry Hub | May 3, 2024 |

Medical: As overcrowding and ramping continue to challenge emergency departments across Australia, the concept of virtual emergency departments (EDs) emerges as a potential solution. These virtual EDs, where specialized emergency doctors offer urgent care consultations to patients via phone or video chat, hold promise in alleviating the strain on hospitals.

A new research initiative, spearheaded by Flinders University and funded with nearly $1 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council, aims to optimize these services.

Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler MP, said “The expansion of telehealth services, during the early days of COVID, has been described as ’10 years of change in 10 days’ and that is not an exaggeration.

“Telehealth has become a permanent feature of the health system today, as both patients and providers enjoy its convenience and potential to remove the tyranny of distance that has sometimes made health service delivery so challenging for rural and remote Australia, in particular.”

Health Minister rejects extra dollars while planned surgery delays double and EDs paint a confronting reality

Led by health economist Professor Jonathan Karnon from Flinders University, the project will evaluate existing virtual EDs across five states to identify best practices and areas for improvement. Despite the common goal of providing timely care for non-life-threatening emergencies, variations exist in referral processes and operational protocols among different services.

The primary objective is to streamline the delivery of virtual ED services, reducing unnecessary visits to traditional emergency departments. By easing the burden on hospitals, the initiative aims to enhance patient outcomes and potentially save lives.

Professor Karnon stated “Ramping has become so prevalent in a number of states across Australia that it’s essentially become the public face of this excess demand on our public hospital system, so we need to ensure a valid functioning alternative.”

Moreover, the research extends beyond metropolitan areas, considering the unique challenges faced by regional healthcare systems.

“Their role could be to advise paramedics on whether to treat on scene or at local health provider, avoiding a long transfer to hospital, as well as in advising on whether a patient can be managed at a local hospital,” said Professor Karnon. “Once transferred to a regional hospital where ED doctors may not be available, the virtual ED could also then provide support to the available health care providers.”

He further added “Our research will look to make improvements not just in metro settings, but across Australia, as it all has a domino effect on how our public health system is accessed.”

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