Telehealth answers the call of outback Australia

The Australian Financial Review, Friday, June 26, 1998

The Sydney call centre of High Performance Healthcare(HPH) is a call centre with a difference.

Manning the telephones 24 hours a day are 60 qualified nurses of all disciplines, social workers, dietitians, medical librarians and even psychologists, all at the leading edge of health information and counselling, disease management and care co-ordination.

HPH is part of a telemedicine sector worth $36 million this year, according to a new report prepared by John Mitchell & Associates for the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism (DIST). The report expects the sector to turn over $54 million this year, with estimates of its size in a decade’s time ranging up to $4 billion, or 10 per cent of health expenditure.

The recently updated report identified some 250 telemedicine projects across Australia, which reflects our early adoption of technologies such as video-conferencing and our excellent medical base.

But like other fast-moving technologies, there are already signs that fragmentation, a lack of maturation in the industry, and a lack of national vision to match our ambitions for industries such as information technology may soon squander any leadership role we have.

Australia lacks professional and industry associations, journals, research bodies and technology shows – the crucial building blocks of industry along with government commitment to integrate telemedicine with the health system.

“Substantial obstacles still need to be overcome before the industry takes off in a dynamic, enduring manner,” consultant John Mitchell concludes.