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RDNS gives telehealth the royal treatment

New telehealth and video conferencing services are helping nurses improve services offered to community care clients. Will Turner reports.

Driven by a desire to improve the quality of care delivered by nursing in community care settings, the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) is increasingly using telehealth as a way to cope with the dual challenges of supply and demand.

Community care organisations are still waiting for the additional government funding to match the reality of increasing demand for services. Australia’s ageing population, combined with increasing numbers of people with debilitating chronic diseases, plus a shortage of hospital and nursing home beds is increasing pressure each year.

And in many cases, community care providers face the additional strain of needing to provide services remotely in peoples’ homes, rather than from the relative comfort of dedicated facilities.

For these reasons, Stelvio Vido, Executive General Manager Projects and Business Development at RDNS sees telehealth investment as a critical.

“We see telehealth as a necessity and something to be invested in prudently and carefully. It is about unlocking the specialist expertise of our workforce where it can be made more accessible when delivered remotely,” he explained.

Australia’s largest provider of home nursing services in aged care, RDNS has expanded in recent years to offer nurse-led healthcare services across several chronic conditions and age groups. It delivers these services across a range of community settings including workplaces, schools and residential facilities.

Meanwhile, RDNS’ nurse-led call centre in Melbourne has become a fundamental building block for the organisation’s future since its inception 5 years ago. Operating 24/7, 365 days a year, the call centre primarily caters for patients and carers who call to speak with a Registered Nurse to discuss emerging health issues and concerns.

In addition to this teleconsulting service, RDNS has invested in a range of IT systems including electronic records to help RN’s quickly determine if mobile nursing staff should be sent to visit a client.

It is also investing in remote monitoring and video technologies to improve patient care. A current project, dubbed the Broadband Enabled Innovation Project, is designed to test the efficacy of sending a nurse to a client’s home for medication management versus using video conferencing to communicate with the client.

With funding and support from the Victorian Department of Business and Innovation, Telstra, La Trobe University and Healthe Tech, the trial involves 50 RDNS aged care clients with monitors installed in their homes and nurses who visit them virtually each day via the call centre, in addition to a weekly face-to-face visit.

Mr Vido said the organisation will be looking to determine if, from a nurse’s perspective, the video conferencing system is shown to be clinically safe and effective. From the patient’s point of view they will be tracking satisfaction with the service received. Feedback from staff and patients to date has been overwhelmingly positive.

In the long term, the trial will also seek to answer questions about the economic viability of video conferencing, and whether it should be expanded to other streams of its service such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis and HIV/AIDS support.

Mr Vido was optimistic the increased potential for video conferencing with patients through the roll out of the National Broadband Network will help video calls become a normal part of RDNS’ operations in the near future.

“Where there is no hands on requirement for treatment I expect it will become more prevalent where service delivery requires it,” he said.

The Challenge: Providing home delivered nursing services in an environment of rapidly increasing demand due to an ageing population and growing chronic disease burden.

The Approach: Adding remote delivery of care and support via phone and video as an adjunct to face to face visits.

The Outcomes: A stepped approach to telehealth investment has created major efficiencies while at the same time improving the accessibility of specialist nursing support to its clients.

The Lessons Learned: Becoming advanced in using basic communication solutions provides an excellent platform for implementing more sophisticated technologies..

The Upside for:

Clinicians: Able to cut down unnecessary travel and increase versatility in how they provide services.

Patients: Have better and more convenient access to the support they need to manage their condition.

The Organisation: Has established a pathway to meet growing demand for its healthcare services and is well placed to successfully invest in future communications technologies.

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