Along New Zealand's remote and sparsely populated west coast, families sometimes must travel 10 hours to see a pediatrician or other medical specialist. Exhausting and expensive, the trips to Christchurch often mean patients and family members will lose a day or more of work and school.
But in a visionary move that is transforming how healthcare is being delivered to remote and rural areas, two District Health Boards within New Zealand's public healthcare system are using Polycom video solutions to efficiently deliver specialist care where it's needed most.
The Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards manage and provide healthcare to nearly 80,000 New Zealanders in the South Island of New Zealand. Part of a network of 20 government funded District Health Boards, they use telehealth solutions to connect patients face-to-face with specialists – all via high-definition video and audio – in a program that is helping save lives, broaden access to needed care, and reduce the burden on patients to travel long distances.
"People are getting a continuity of service they wouldn't necessarily get," says Stella Ward, executive director of Allied Health for Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards, which together implemented telehealth in 2010. "We certainly believe it's a smart investment."
A new way of delivering care
Specialists in Christchurch use desktop environments to engage directly with Greymouth Hospital, which is equipped with a Polycom practitioner cart – a durable, enclosed, mobile telehealth solution that bring high-definition video, audio, and content sharing to the point of care. Some doctors also use Polycom mobile software on tablets and smartphones to conduct after-hours consultations from home.
"It's like being in a normal consultation," says Dr. Katie Woodhouse, resident medical officer at Greymouth Hospital. "Everybody's on the same page."
The impact is felt in numerous ways:
Dr. John Garrett, liaison pediatrician for the two districts, says children may be benefiting most from the program. "We were struggling with the number of children we needed to see," recalls Garrett, who reports that the use of telehealth has helped reduce the outpatient backlog. Now, he says, "we're able to see more children."
In five years, says Garrett, District Health Boards nationwide expect to conduct 10 percent of all consults over video. As part of that goal, he says, providers hope to "reach into patients' homes" using Polycom mobile software, giving residents in remote areas – where storms frequently wash out roads, blocking access even to local doctors – unprecedented access to care. "They really won't have to travel too far at all, if anywhere, to get seen."
Watch the video here.