Access to high quality healthcare in regional Australia is an ongoing challenge, with one enterprising country town, Temora, 420km southwest of Sydney, going so far as to produce a 3-minute music video, “The Great Quack Quest” in a bid to attract GPs.
Technology offers one solution, allowing patients in remote locations to consult with medical specialists online, avoiding long drives to capital cities. The sector is known as telehealth. It’s growing rapidly and is already worth $2.2 billion globally.
One Australian startup focussing on telehealth is Coviu, a recent spinout of CSIRO’s digital innovation arm, Data61.
Coviu raised $1 million from venture capital firm Main Sequence Ventures 12 months ago to help develop its online consultancy platform.
Co-founded by Dr Silvia Pfeiffer in 2015, the problem Coviu set out to solve was that existing video software and conferencing applications were not appropriate for telehealth, which needs higher levels of security and confidentiality, not to mention ecommerce and management for tasks such as payments, appointment bookings, and patient consent.
Coviu’s software platform also enlists AI-enhanced clinical tools to make a video consultation even more effective and already more than 2000 clinicians, ranging from physiotherapists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, dietitians, nutritionists and GPs have used the platform to consult with more than 48,000 patients.
Swinburne students, researchers and clinical services will have access to the Coviu platform for training and research.
Swinburne’s Academic Director of Digital Health & Informatics, Dr Mark Merolli, said that his university is committed to being a leader in digital health.
“Having our students prepared for a workforce where healthcare is increasingly delivered remotely, is imperative and something that is at the core of digital health’s future in Australia,” she said.
We need graduates that are comfortable using this technology and Swinburne will produce them.”
The Coviu tech platform will be part of the nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, dietetics, health science, and digital health and informatics curriculums, as well as being part of Swinburne’s new Master of Physiotherapy, and Graduate Certificate in Teleaudiology, later this year.
Dr Pfeiffer, who is also Coviu’s CEO, said the company’s technology tackles three key barriers to accessing healthcare remotely – effort, time, and money.
“Our goal is to bring fairer access to healthcare for all citizens, regardless of their location, and this partnership takes us one step closer,” she said.
“Beyond geographical constraints, there’s often a stigma attached to seeking support for certain health services; for example, mental health. However, for many people, this disappears when they can do it from the comfort and privacy of their own home. This makes telehealth a fantastic – and under-utilised – solution for those seeking aid, regardless of location.”
Dr Pfeiffer said research found that up to 80% of clinician visits can be provided online with comparable clinical outcomes.
“We’ve worked hard to make our telehealth technology simple to use by patients and providers, however, it’s absolutely essential that the next generation of medical professionals are equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to make online consultations as effective as possible,” she said.
“Our partnership with Swinburne will ensure that this process takes place.”