Tech and Innovation |

Telstra Health and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic

By Mary Foley June 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on how we all think about healthcare. This period has reinforced the drive for digitisation that most healthcare providers are already undertaking, and has dramatically accelerated newer technologies such as telehealth, in-home monitoring and access to information directly by patients. It has also demonstrated the importance of high quality, real-time health information for both clinical and health policy purposes.

Healthcare in Australia has been digitising for decades, but it is a gradual process and paper and faxed records are still commonplace. Most records in general practice, hospitals, aged care and pharmacies are digital, but there are still challenges with sharing this information efficiently.

During the pandemic, however, there has been an increased focus on the importance of sharing high-quality digital health information, as well as the ability to provide options for the public to access care and advice in a socially distanced world.

At Telstra Health we have been working collaboratively with hospitals and healthcare professionals to help digitise different systems and help them move to a new virtual consultation model.

As a result of the pandemic, more Australians are now having their first contact with virtually-delivered healthcare supported by digital technologies, and it won’t be their last.

Taking digital care mainstream

Radical change in how patients access care has been driven not only by the pandemic, but also by the radical change in the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS). The removal of restrictions and introduction of new MBS items for telehealth is one of the most fundamental changes to Medicare in over 30 years, indeed in March this year, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said ‘…we announced universal telehealth for Australians, in other words, we rebuilt Medicare over the course of the last ten days.’

Additionally, the Australian Government also committed to fast-track the implementation of new electronic prescriptions for patients. This move – which was implemented in just two months during the pandemic – represents enormous change in a highly regulated sector.

These technology changes have brought new ways for practitioners to care for their patients. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 by helping Australians to stay inside for their medical appointments is one way digital healthcare proved vital during the pandemic.

After the introduction of bulk-billed telehealth consultations for all Australians, for example, call volumes to Telstra Health’s telehealth service tripled compared to pre-COVID levels. In fact, since the pandemic was declared, we understand approximately 25 per cent of GP visits are now conducted virtually, up from a base in the single digits pre-pandemic. And at one point during the pandemic 70 per cent of specialist visits were conducted via telehealth.

These services do more than just make it easier for patients and clinicians to receive and deliver care respectively, they helped – and will continue to help – reduce pressure on vital local hospital services. GPs are also reporting that a large number of consultations in this time are for mental health care.

The introduction of the first end-to-end paperless script transaction represents a significant milestone in the Australian health system.

Pre-pandemic, patients needed, for the most bipart, to attend a doctor’s office in person for a prescription before taking it to the pharmacy.

At the beginning of May, FRED IT, a joint venture partner of Telstra Health, successfully delivered the first paperless script transaction between a GP and a pharmacy.

The model involves a doctor writing an electronic prescription that is received as an encrypted ‘token’ by the patient as an SMS or email. The patient then forwards or presents this code for dispensing at their chosen pharmacy.

It not only makes it easier for patients to collect their medicine, but it also makes it safer: patients are far less likely to be dispensed the wrong dosage when scripts are digitally controlled between the GP and pharmacy.

Patients are less likely to lose scripts, and those on multiple medications can more easily keep track of their scripts via digital means.

Telstra Health is also working with large public hospitals and emergency departments to support patients in their own homes. These solutions involve using remote monitoring to receive pulse and oxygen saturation readings with a SpO2 pulse oximeter as well as blood pressure data, meaning infectious patients don’t have to leave their homes for some care.

We have worked to reduce isolation and support care in vulnerable aged care facilities where many residents are at the most risk of COVID-19, keeping them in touch with their families while in isolation via the specialist Message Manager Platform. This helps to reduce social isolation while also being conscious of exposing aged care residents to unnecessary risk.

This includes introducing new forms within our aged care software to assist in the identification and care of high-risk COVID-19 patients or patients who have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

At a macro level, Telstra’s technology has been used to keep governments informed of Intensive Care Unit capacity and the status of those in self-isolation.

All of these examples show how technology can benefit the lives of all Australians.

What we’ve learned during this time of intense change will stay with us throughout our future healthcare journey, as we work to continue the momentum of implementing safe, reliable and available digital healthcare for every Australian.

Tech and Innovation |

How we’re fighting COVID-19 with technology

By Luke Hopewell April 23, 2020

As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, we’re working rapidly with medical and government agencies to ensure that Australia has the equipment and technology needed to stem the outbreak. Here’s how we’re on board to help use our scale and network to help fight COVID-19 and its deadly spread.

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Connecting ICUs with CHRIS

The impact of COVID-19 on hospitals and health services around the world has been immense. Existing hospitals have been used to every square inch of space, and in some cases, new facilities have been built to care for the vast influx of COVID-19 patients.

Australian healthcare agencies have observed the impact of COVID-19 and are already implementing new measures to ensure Intensive Care Units (ICUs) can manage peak demand. From today, we’ll be working with 191 public and private hospital ICUs (including neo-natal care units) to manage demand and availability through the Critical Health Resource Information System (CHRIS).

The CHRIS system allows healthcare facilities to move patients to the nearest available ICU hospital, and redeploy vital equipment including personal protective equipment, respirators and dialysis machines to those that need it most.

CHRIS was developed by Telstra Purple in-conjunction with Ambulance Victoria and ANZICS after the successful implementation of a similar system in Victoria to share patient load and care. Ambulance Victoria have been using elements of this platform for many years to coordinate the care of patients requiring intensive care. Through the expansion of this service, CHRIS is able to have visibility of public and private intensive care resources across the country as well as managing surges in demand ahead of time.

Hospitals will also get a boost from our CRUZR robots. These friendly companions built by Telstra Ventures work to free up vital hospital staff by performing basic tasks such as body temperature checks and more.

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Ensuring self-isolation sticks with a WHISPIR

A failure to self-isolate can mean the difference between containing COVID-19 and spreading it to unwitting members of the community. That’s why Australia’s state and federal governments have implemented mandatory isolation orders for those who have recently returned from abroad.

Keeping tabs on thousands of travellers in their hotel rooms can be difficult, which is why we’ve lent a hand in Victoria with the WHISPIR platform.

WHISPIR allows businesses and government agencies to send messages to staff or community members with a variety of actions attached. In this instance, WHISPIR is being used to keep tabs on those quarantined by sending them a message that requires them to confirm their condition and compliance.

The message from WHISPIR and the Victorian state government will ask isolators to respond to a series of questions for confirmation, and if the message goes unanswered, authorities can be notified and attend the location for physical confirmation.

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Leading from the front with our own healthcare technology arm

COVID-19 has shown healthcare organisations and governments that the health sector remains largely undigitised in Australia. Many private and regional hospitals are without electronic medical records and are potentially blocked by a number of incompatible systems across different areas of care.

With our healthcare technology arm – Telstra Health – we’ve been hand-in-glove with hospitals and healthcare professionals to help digitise different systems. Since the pandemic was declared, however, we’ve accelerated our work to help more healthcare agencies respond digitally to the new normal.

Ensuring that self-isolators are receiving adequate medical care is vital, and we’re helping to deliver the connectivity required for telehealth appointments. We’re working with large public hospitals and emergency departments to support low-risk COVID-19 patients in their own homes. These agencies are using remote monitoring gear to receive pulse and oxygen saturation readings with a SpO2 pulse oximeter as well as blood pressure data, meaning infectious patients don’t have to leave the house for care.

Meanwhile, the removal of restrictions and introduction of new Medicare Benefit Scheme (MBS) items for things like telehealth is one of the most fundamental changes to Medicare in over 30 years. Already, call volumes to Telstra Health’s telehealth service have tripled, and this is expected to continue to increase following the weekend announcement that Medicare will cover bulk-billed telehealth consultations for all Australians. The Australian Government has also committed to fast track the implementation of electronic prescriptions, removing a series of regulatory requirements in order to deliver this policy in about two months rather than what would have been much longer in a pre-COVID environment.

We’re also working in the aged-care space where COVID-19’s effects are acute. As access to aged care sites become restricted to prevent the spread to our most vulnerable, we’re using our Message Manager software to combine communication and record management facilities to report healthcare progress with a single system. This allows staff to easily track what has been communicated to residents and their families to give peace of mind to all involved.

Regional |

Telstra Health and the Royal Flying Doctors bring healthcare to regional Australia

By Colleen Birchley June 22, 2017

Telstra Health has partnered with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Victoria and it has nothing to do with planes. In fact, the service we’re providing is entirely focused on helping to keep the Flying Doctors out of the air as much as possible.

Prevention is always better than cure, especially when we’re talking about health, which is why the Royal Flying Doctor Service is working with Telstra Health to provide telehealth services to residents in Kerang, which is 300 kilometres north of Melbourne, to provide them with easier and regular access to specialists.
As Telstra Health’s Colleen Birchley explains, thanks to technology, telehealth services can help bridge the geographical access gap to healthcare that many Australians living in regional and remote areas face.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australians in rural and regional areas have higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies than those in urban areas. Living in a rural area often means it’s difficult to see a specialist. You may have to wait months for an appointment and then have to travel a long way to attend.

And for some, the long distances and wait times are enough to prevent them from seeking the specialist care they need. Thanks to the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Victoria, distance is no longer a barrier. For patient Ron Hick, the 300 kilometres between him and a diabetes specialist meant an eight hour round trip to Melbourne every three months.

Thanks to a this partnership between the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Telstra Health, Ron now receives specialist treatment without having to leave his home town. The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been delivering telehealth to rural communities in Victoria since November 2013 and as part of the partnership local patients with diabetes can better connect with endocrinologists based at Baker in Melbourne from their local health centre.

Telstra Health has worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service to build a new telehealth platform that facilitates this service by bringing together video conferencing capabilities along with secure document management, advanced clinician scheduling and an online booking system in a fully integrated and customisable solution.

Describing how this service has impacted him, Ron said: “The greatest impact for me has been the fact that instead of having to travel four hours each way to see my specialist, I now travel four minutes. I have great respect and admiration for the service.”

Since rolling out the platform, 320 consultations have been delivered via telehealth, saving patients more than 3,000 hours travel this financial year alone. This is anticipated to double over the next 12 months. The technology has been so well received in Kerang that the Royal Flying Doctors is planning to expand the service to other areas and for conditions other than diabetes.

Using technology to help Australia’s healthcare sector better serve patients in a connected world is a strong focus for Telstra Health. Improving connectivity between patients and clinicians through technology improves the continuity of care that clinicians can offer their patients.

Telstra News |

New Health app will deliver a connected healthcare experience

By Rowan Wilkie April 3, 2017

Telstra’s Health’s Rowan Wilkie talks about a new application that is under development that has the opportunity to be a one stop shop for Australian consumers for their health information, appointments and records.

Just like banking, transport or retail, the health sector is going through a fundamental transformation driven by digital technology. Given the complexities inherently involved in delivering healthcare and the sensitivity of health data however, some of the changes and benefits technology can bring are not yet as obvious to patients and consumers.

It is clear that technology will play a key role in supporting healthcare organisations to enhance interactions between patients and providers. Indeed, there is great benefit to be derived from connecting up different parts of the health sector.

At Telstra Health, this is what we’re working towards. Over the past six months, we have been busy working on an exciting health app – HealthNow – that brings together a number of our capabilities in specialist healthcare software and platforms in a one-stop shop for Australian consumers.

The goal is to give people access to their health records at their fingertips, as well as manage their health appointments, keep track of prescriptions and also receive tailored preventative health messages.

The app will utilise our health technology solutions. For example, through existing Telstra Health services, we will work towards consumers gaining access to diagnostic images delivered via our Medinexus service and online hospital check-ins using our Queue Manager system. We are looking to integrate more solutions and functionality based on healthcare provider and patient feedback.

We are also one of the only organisations so far to be granted authorisation to integrate the Government’s My Health Record into the app. This means that, subject to a range of stringent security, privacy and technology requirements set by the Government, people will be able to access their My Health Record through the app. This does not mean though that Telstra or any third party will gain access to this information – only the app user can see the data.

We are excited about the potential of the HealthNow app, which aims to help patients, healthcare providers, Government agencies and insurance companies connect with each other for better healthcare outcomes for all Australians. The app is currently being trialled ahead of a public launch later this year. Follow @TelstraHealth for updates.

Telstra News |

Telehealth in action with the Royal Flying Doctor Service

By Colleen Birchley February 27, 2017

As Telstra Health’s Colleen Birchley explains, telehealth services offer great opportunities to deliver services to people with chronic health problems living in regional and remote Australia.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australians in rural and regional areas have higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies than those in urban areas. Living in a rural area often means it’s difficult to see a specialist. You may have to wait months for an appointment and then have to travel a long way to attend.

Thanks to the Royal Flying Doctor Service better opportunities for health services are becoming a reality in regional Victoria.

For patient Ron Hick, the 300 kilometres between him and a diabetes specialist meant an eight hour round trip to Melbourne every three months. Thanks to a new partnership between the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Telstra Health, Ron now receives specialist treatment without having to leave his home town.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been delivering telehealth to rural communities in Victoria since November 2013 and as part of the partnership local patients with diabetes can better connect with endocrinologists based at Baker in Melbourne from their local health centre.

Telstra Health has worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service to build a new telehealth platform that facilitates this service by bringing together video conferencing capabilities along with secure document management, advanced clinician scheduling and an online booking system in a fully integrated and customisable solution.

For Ron, and many like him, this means that he no longer needs to travel long distances to see a specialist and can instead have his consultation in his local health centre.

Describing how this service has impacted him, Ron said: “The greatest impact for me has been the fact that instead of having to travel four hours each way to see my specialist, I now travel four minutes. I have great respect and admiration for the service.”

While the Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria is making the service available to diabetes patients in Mildura, West Wimmera and Kerang, Telstra Health is working with them as they look to expand this service to other conditions and other regions in Victoria.

Using technology to help Australia’s healthcare sector better serve patients in a connected world is a strong focus for Telstra Health. Improving connectivity between patients and clinicians through technology improves the continuity of care that clinicians can offer their patients.