It may cover some of the most remote, and arguably the most beautiful, parts of Australia, but the team at Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council (KAMSC) is not letting the tyranny of distance stop them from providing the best patient care they can.
Dr Stephanie Trust is the Deputy Medical Director at KAMSC, she is a Gidja woman from Wuggubun community, born and bred in the Kimberley region.
KAMSC is a regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) which provides a collective voice for a network of member ACCHS from towns and remote communities across the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The region has an Aboriginal population of around 50,000, with half of those living in remote communities across an area the size of South Australia.
KAMSC is involved in supporting member services, but also in clinical service delivery. This may mean travelling to remote and regional Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS), but increasingly it involves the use of innovative technologies that combine telehealth and electronic health records.
The benefits of combining telehealth and electronic health records are manifold. Having a centralised database eliminates any uncertainty and confusion caused by poor handwriting, and files are no longer inaccessible to due to being housed at a distant location.
“The network’s integration of telehealth technology with electronic health records mean they can often provide the kind of services that previously have required patients to travel sometimes thousands of kilometres,” says Dr Trust.
Using the internet, specialists in metropolitan centres are able to consult with patients in regional and remote areas. “A specialist in Perth, for instance, can see what we see might be seeing on a screen in Bargo,” Dr Trust says.
KAMSC has advanced in its adoption of telehealth, which started with an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) project run by Dr Michael Watson in conjunction with KAMSC in the remote communities of Balgo and Bidyadanga.
Spurred by greater understanding of the importance of good hearing to learning and health development, the project involved a combination of face-to-face consultations held in communities, high resolution images of the problem area sent to specialists in Perth, and follow-up consultations supported by health workers in the community and the specialist.
The ENT project allowed KAMSC staff to screen up to 70 kids each day; about 60 per cent of those screened had significant ear diseases.
Integrating the results from these screenings and subsequent follow-up onto an internet-based record system also allowed nurses to access waiting lists and schedule further consultations or medical intervention.
Incredibly, this sophisticated method of recording and tracking patient records has been achieved without access to high speed broadband or the National Broadband Network (NBN), and in many places relying on the availability and vagaries of the 3G network.
“The Internet and the NBN is crucial to the further development of these technologies.”
The difficulties of remote service delivery are slowly being overcome, and improved and secure online access can only assist in ameliorating the harshness imposed by vast distances, costly journeys, and few doctors.
As part of the National e-Health Strategy, the Australian Government is investing in a national telehealth strategy. The NBN will provide a platform that allows homes, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals to connect to affordable, reliable, high-speed and high-capacity broadband.
Many of Australia’s remote communities will access the NBN via satellite, currently serviced by the Interim Satellite Service but to be replaced in 2015 with the Long Term Satellite Service. This will deliver initial peak speeds of 12/1 Mbps* at the wholesale level for the same wholesale access price as similar fibre services.