Our experience in using telehealth for paediatric plastic surgery in Western Australia

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Excerpt

‘Telehealth’ is the use of telecommunication technologies for exchanging medical information for the purpose of diagnosis, consultation, treatment and teaching.1 Advancements in telecommunication technology and digital data transmission, along with Telehealth Medicare incentives in 2011, have seen an increase in the provision of expertise not available ‘on‐site’.2
Western Australia covers an area of more than 2.5 million square kilometres, accounting for one‐third of Australia's total land mass.3 Tertiary care is centralized in Perth, its capital city, with limited regional infrastructure and specialist services available to relatively small rural populations over huge distances. As a result, patients can be transferred from as far away as the Cocos Islands, 2900 km from Perth.
Western Australia's only tertiary paediatric referral centre, Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), provides plastic surgery services to over 500 000 children across the state.4 Patients and their families travel great distances, sometimes more than 24 h, to access tertiary plastic surgical care. Telehealth offers the opportunity to deliver specialist services across the state with care equal to that available to patients in city, providing convenience to families, reducing outreach clinics and supporting rural health professionals.5
PMH Telehealth Service first commenced in 2003 with the caseload including both elective and trauma plastic surgery patients. The aim of this study was to share our experience using telehealth for service provision and care delivery in a geographically challenging setting.
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