A telehealth system developed by the CSIRO’s Data 61 is fast-tracking the uptake of video consultations in Australia, with the platform now connecting 20,000 Australians with their healthcare practitioners.
 
Through partnerships with Health Team Australia, HealthKit and Ramsay Healthcare, Coviu is breaking down healthcare access problems in rural and regional Australia, improving the at-home management of chronic conditions, and providing the healthcare system with cost savings.
 
Such is its momentum, Coviu has grown its base of paying users by 470 per cent in the last year and has been commercialised in China.
 
Accessed through web browsers, a mobile app or integrated into practice management software, the emerging start-up was developed by Data61 in consultation with healthcare providers to tailor the platform to their needs.
 
“The Coviu team in Data61 has worked with clinicians from the very beginning to co-design the application and ensure it meets clinician and business requirements. We are always open to hear what they need next and have a long list of features we’re continuing to develop,” Coviu CEO Dr Silvia Pfeiffer told Healthcare IT News Australia.
 
It's that collaboration that makes the platform far more healthcare-specific than standard video applications.
 
“Coviu has two advantages over standard video conferencing solutions. It integrates with workflows in healthcare – appointment bookings, data management, waiting rooms – and facilitates rich interactions between patients and providers in the call that are specific to the provider specialisation,” Pfeiffer said.
 
“For example, standardised assessments for speech pathologists, forms to fill in such as mental health questionnaires, and more interactive whiteboard and medical document sharing with annotations. This empowers a richer video consultation experience – sometimes it’s even better than being there.”
 
The online video call system harnesses the WebRTC open framework technology and satisfies regulatory requirements around security and privacy, making it an easy to implement and safe option for healthcare providers. The Federal Government’s ongoing NBN rollout will also boost the uptake of a transformative technology.
 
“In the last three years we have seen a massive growth in interest in telehealth. Private practices are aware that the coming of the NBN will enable them to offer new telehealth services and are ready to experiment with it. The interest is there, experiments are starting, and new businesses are being created.”
 
Telehealth is booming in countries such as the US, where an estimated 1.25 million online patient consultations occurred in 2016, according to the American Telemedicine Association. But Australia is playing catch-up.
 
“We are probably about five years behind the USA in this respect. Like all other countries, we are struggling to change our reimbursement schemes to accommodate new technology,” Pfeiffer said.
 
“Some of Medicare’s new activities in this space – particularly reimbursement for mental health consultations into rural and remote areas – have created lots of new trials and successes. We expect the healthcare industry as a whole to move forward with telehealth in Australia and mirror the dramatic growth seen in the USA and other countries in the next couple of years.”
 
With most patients currently paying out-of-pocket fees to for telehealth consultations, Pfeiffer called for changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule that would be reimbursed by savings throughout the healthcare system.
 
“Medicare already covers some telehealth services in the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We believe this is just the beginning and many more services should be covered. The goal is that by treating more people at home before they get badly sick, we reduce the number of hospital admissions and thus the overall cost to the healthcare system.”
 
Coviu has been proven effective in the provision of speech pathology for children, the management of autism, and helping people recover from workplace injuries.
 
Physiotherapy network Biosymm, which works with major retail, industrial, mining, rail and pharmaceutical clients, many of which operate in isolated areas of Australia, has conducted more than 1400 consultations on the platform.

“The majority of work injuries are musculoskeletal in nature, and by using Coviu to connect patients with our physiotherapy team, we can triage them on the spot and provide the right advice at the right time, wherever they’re based,” Biosymm CEO Greg Borman said.
 
“The real-time video feature also allows us to guide employers at the end of the consult on what the worker can safely perform at work during their recovery and how best to prevent a recurrence or aggravation.
 
“We’ve been able to deliver significant returns in workers compensation savings and productivity by ensuring employees receive the timely expert treatment and guidance they need to make a full and swift recovery.”
 

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