Big city services to Highlands

Dr Ewen McPhee with the new telehealth technology, which is expected to reduce patient travel expenses and increase patient care in the Central Highlands.
Dr Ewen McPhee with the new telehealth technology, which is expected to reduce patient travel expenses and increase patient care in the Central Highlands.

GONE are the days of Central Highlanders travelling hours for a specialist appointment, thanks to the introduction of telehealth technology.

Working towards reducing travel, time and expenses for patients in Central Highlands, Dr Ewen McPhee has adopted telehealth video conferencing technology, which allows consultations to be held with specialists across the state.

Being the first practice in the Central Highlands to use the technology, Dr McPhee said the service was an indispensable part of his practice.

He said being able to conduct consultations locally with a specialist had a myriad of benefits for his patients.

"The tyranny of distance is very real in communities like ours," Dr McPhee said.

"Even if you can readily secure a specialist appointment, your patient will invariably have to take time off work, be absent from family, pay travel and accommodation expenses and often deal with difficult health issues alone.

"With telehealth, these problems are less likely to arise."

Dr McPhee said telehealth could make the preparation for surgery and the follow-up more efficient and less traumatic.

"Our consulting plastic surgeon will use telehealth to triage patients," he said.

"For example, if a patient presents with an advanced skin cancer I think should be excised, the surgeon can determine during the initial telehealth consult whether the operation can be carried out on his next visit to Emerald or if the procedure warrants the patient going to Brisbane.

"If the patient is also frail or has small children, being able to eliminate the travelling and time away from home is a relief.

"The imperative for us now is to identify specialists who are set up for telehealth. We currently have good arrangements with a paediatrician, gastroenterologist, neurologist or plastic surgeon.

"Our immediate need is to find compatible specialists in areas such as diabetes and endocrinology."

Dr McPhee said he was trying to reduce the amount of travelling involved for people getting healthcare.

"They (specialists) charge the same fee whether it's a video conference or face to face, minus the travel, fuel and accommodation," he said.

"The hospital here pays out over $1 million in travel subsidies every year, and that's money that comes out of the hospital budget. So what we want to do is help the hospital to save on our travels.

"To fly all that way for five minutes then fly straight home - it's crazy stuff."

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