Telehealth consultations were recently the subject of a well written article by The Mercury journalist Hannah Martin.
Online spin on the house call
A HOBART psychiatrist is Australia’s leading telehealth practitioner, responsible for 3 per cent of all web-based consultations last year.
Ross Kirkman carried out more than 1500 consultations last year using technology like Skype.
It means he treats patients in Tasmania’s northwest, east coast and interstate without leaving his Sandy Bay home.
Dr Kirkman said he used to spend eight hours each week travelling to Burnie.
“Initially (patients) were a bit sceptical, but once they’d done it once or twice, people have adapted to it easily,” he said.
“You also have patients who say ‘I find it easier to open up and talk to you when you’re not in the same room as me’.
“Some find it less anxiety provoking.”
Dr Kirkman said patients went to their GP for telehealth appointments, improving shared-care arrangements with doctors, who often sat in on consultations.
“They’re often very much involved in the whole process and get immediate feedback on my management plan for a patient and can start on it straight away,” he said.
Dr Kirkman said the set-up allowed him to see about 600 new patients each year and proved the value of the service to people in regional and rural areas, who have traditionally struggled to access medical services such as psychiatry.
Dr Kirkman is part of GP2U, Australia’s largest telehealth company, run out of Hobart by James Freeman.
Dr Freeman said the number of telehealth consultations is growing each year, with 65,000 consultations in 2013.
But with more than 20 million specialist consultations taking place the traditional way in Australia each year, he said telehealth was still “very much a drop in the ocean”.
Dr Freeman said the uptake of telehealth services fell well short of the previous federal government’s initial forecast of 500,000 annual specialist consultations.
“Telehealth has been a great idea that has just suffered from a dreadful implementation (by government),” he said.
Dr Freeman said he agitated to allow GPs to use telehealth services, making arrangements with chemists to allow patients to access scripts.
He said telehealth consultations had been extremely successful in treating mentally ill and overweight patients.