The Western Australian Government will spend $36.5 million on clinical, emergency, specialist, education and remote telehealth services in the next four years.
Funding was announced by Deputy Premier and Health Minister Kim Hames last week, as part of the State Government’s $565 million Southern Inland Health Initiative.
The SIHI included six streams: telehealth; district hospital upgrades; medical workforce; primary health care demonstrations; aged care; and small hospital and nursing post refurbishment.
According to the WA Country Health Service’s telehealth manager Alan Hamilton, the telehealth program would involve an estimated $5.5 million of capital costs, to be spent in the first two years.
“Telehealth in WA has previously focused on the provision of specialist outpatient appointments via videoconferencing along with some limited store & forward methods,” he told iTnews this week.
“This funding provides the opportunity to increase support and expand the existing programs while at the same time foster relationships with new service providers to develop programs in other areas such as acute care and home monitoring.”
While the Federal telehealth rebate scheme, announced on 1 July, targeted private health sector specialists and GPs, the SIHI would deliver public health services in southern WA, Hamilton said.
Videoconferencing technology, including high-definition desktop and room-based systems, would be deployed in regional emergency departments, clinical consulting rooms and education venues.
Funds may also go towards equipment in metropolitan health facilities to enable the delivery of telehealth services to regional areas, Hamilton said.
Telehealth-related services such as directories, scheduling systems, helpdesk, training, service monitoring and reporting systems would also be funded.
“The capital costs will be spread throughout the Southern Inland Health Initiative (SIHI) catchment area, commencing with the Wheatbelt region,” he said.
“The focus of the program will be the development and provision of an acute care service while simultaneously developing specialists’ outpatient services.”
“The individual needs of the service will determine the technology that will be used and the final purchasing decisions will be made as details of the telehealth programs progress.”
Over the next four years, the State Government planned to spend between $7.3 million and $8.2 million per year on telehealth operating costs.
The telehealth program also built on the nationwide ‘Clever Networks’ upgrade, which included bridging services, firewall transversal and bandwidth provision within health wide- and local-area networks.
“WA is in an enviable position from a network perspective in order to support an expansion of the telehealth program,” Hamilton said.