Coviu

Looking to address the disconnect between rural and city healthcare, CSIRO has announced a new partnership between its Data61 arm and regional allied health network Health Team Australia (HTA), which will see a real-time online video platform rolled out via a range of partners across Australia.

The rollout, which began in November last year to HTA customers, uses the telehealth video service from Coviu, a healthtech startup developed within and backed by Data61.

With higher quality live video on the rise as platforms such as Skype look to increase their capabilities, Coviu took a step back to develop a real-time video platform that could handle the slower internet connections plaguing Australia’s rural areas.

The new video consultation service will allow for the extension of existing health solutions in addition to services across professional physiologies, psychologists, occupational therapists and dieticians.

Expected to connect up to 20,000 patients with online healthcare professionals, the partnership aims to ease the limitations communities in rural areas of Australia face when looking to access professional medical help.

Coviu’s video service has also begun delivery to metropolitan areas across NSW, Victoria, and the ACT through non-profit partner YMCA, which is now moving towards regional communities.

Discussing the health services the telehealth platform will help provide regional communities, a HTA spokesperson said, “[Coviu] gives health professionals direct access to the lives of remote patients so they can prescribe a health plan that is meaningful to their lives and relevant to their situation.”

This “on-demand” service will allow patients to receive support from health experts in order to help balance out the facility inequities experienced in remote areas of Australia.

“Coviu gives people the opportunity to stay in their community for longer as they age and continue to play a meaningful role in the community.”

Coviu’s Project Director, Dr Silvia Pfeiffe, said the platform also allows health experts to live-share medical data and images, in addition to the face-to-camera consultation. Pfeiffe also mentioned the need to expand video consultations towards becoming a standard mechanism of delivering health services in Australia.

Currently, less than 4 percent of health practitioners in private practice provide telehealth services to their patients, according to a Medicare statistical analysis from 2016.

“Approximately 10 per cent of the Australian population is spread across 90 percent of its area, and these people have poor access to medical specialists that’s taken for granted in large metropolitan areas,” Pfeiffer said.

Although Coviu’s platform has been designed to work with slower internet speeds, coverage in many regional areas still remains an issue, with some communities still running on dial-up internet.

Connectivity issues in these areas was recognised as a key issue by a dozen advocacy groups in November last year, who formed a coalition in order to help end the ‘data drought’ and push for better communication services.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) yesterday released a position statement calling on the government to take “urgent action” on developing higher performing regional broadband in order to ensure regional communities can efficiently access telehealth and e-health options.

Despite the NBN behind rolled out in regional areas intended to bring internet speeds up to par with other Western countries, a number of GPs quoted in the statement stressed that this connection speed is still non-sufficient.

The NBN has been deficient in providing comprehensive coverage even in areas that are under 25km from a major regional centre i.e. Orange and Dubbo,” said one GP.

“Many areas are not getting the best from the NBN,” another said.