Telehealth programs developed by Hunter New England Health have proven so successful, the body is committed to expanding the use of telehealth "right across the board".
Executive Director of Rural and Regional Health Service Susan Heyman said their 24-hour telestroke, electrocardiogram and cardiotocography programshave proven to work so well they have been adopted state-wide.
"I don't think there's a limit on it myself," she aid.
"I think there really is the opportunity to look right across the board at almost any service that we deliver. The key message is this is not about substituting, this is about enhancing the care that's provided, the quality of that care, access and timeliness.
"That's one of the fears that's been promoted in the past, that this will replace all face-to-face contact and all real people and I don't believe it will do that."
The programs allow patients in the smallest hospital to receive immediate care from the best specialists in the state, she told the Hunter New England Health (HNEH) annual general meeting last week.
The first two processes were developed in the Hunter New England health district, and all three have now been adopted state-wide.
"This is about providing a gold standard of care and quality of care to our rural communities," she said.
"People often talk about virtual care as if it's a second choice. What I was trying to demonstrate in the AGM was that this is really good quality high-level care that our rural communities are receiving, and it allows them to receive that in real time, so there's no delay."
All three programs use high-tech equipment and the internet to transmit information collected from a patient to a specialist in another hospital or health facility somewhere else, who can then immediately advise local doctors what to do.
The telestroke service is particularly valuable due to the significance of speed in treating a stroke, but an electrocardiogram can help prevent a heart attack, and cardiotocography helps doctors monitor unborn babies.
HNEH studies have proven the ECG service to have "very significant" positive results, Mr Heyman said.
Telehealth isn't a synonym for removing services from rural areas, she said.
The specialists aren't necessarily based in Sydney or Newcastle and the service can actually help promote health decentralisation, she said. Both Tamworth's specialist neurologists provide telehealth through the telestroke service, for example.
Ms Heyman said the success of models developed in the district was a sign the Hunter New England is "one of the highest performing local health districts in the state".
Uniquely, HNEH includes both the tertiary John Hunter Hospital, plus Tamworth's rural referral hospital, plus dozens of smaller community-level hospitals and multi-purpose services.
The district has been forced to be innovative because of its diversity, she said.
Chief Executive Michael DiRienzo revealed the schedule of the health district's major construction projects at the Thursday annual general meeting.
The new Banskia Mental Health unit would cost about $45 million and treat its first patient in 2025, he said. The new Gunnedah hospital is still budgeted for $53 million, and will also be completed in 2025. Moree's new hospital will cost about $80 million and be delivered the same year. Stage one of the new Glen Innes hospital will cost $20 and be finished in 2024.
The health service performed 663,304 COVID-19 tests in the last financial year, but only treated 282 patients infected with the virus, 35 of them in an intensive care unit, and treated 2247 people at home. HNEH staff vaccinated 297,775 people.
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