Service delivery to regional, rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations

The Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre (TAAHC) footprint has a total resident population of about 700,000. The largest city has fewer than 200,000 people and only three cities have a population of more than 100,000. The remainder of the population is dispersed among small isolated towns and remote communities with limited healthcare personnel and facilities.

Ensuring that service delivery to these populations delivers outcomes on par with metropolitan areas is an enormous challenge. It is also a significant opportunity to develop new and innovative ways to deliver safe and effective health care.

TAAHC research teams are harnessing advances in medical, information and communication technology to design and implement agile, sustainable and culturally appropriate service models to regional, rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations across northern Queensland.

Examples of TAAHC’s work in this area include:

Technology-enabled health care

TAAHC partners have led the development and evaluation of telehealth ‘models of care’ which aim to provide appropriate healthcare via distributed services for a variety of conditions as well as providing advice for remote clinicians regarding emergency retrievals and tele-supervision of clinical trainees. These models reduce often substantial travel and relocation costs for patients and carers, and expand the scope of practice for remotely-located clinical staff.

Tele-oncology models developed by Prof Sabe Sabesan (Townsville Hospital and Health Service/James Cook University) and his team have proven to be safe, cost effective and highly acceptable to patients (including Indigenous patients) and to rural and remote health professionals.

The North Queensland Tele-oncology network brings specialist oncology services to a range of rural and remote hospitals and primary health services, from Mornington Island to Longreach and the Torres Strait. A number of rural hospitals now deliver remotely supervised chemotherapy with trained chemotherapy nurses. As a result of its success across the region, the program has now been rolled out statewide as the Queensland Remote Chemotherapy Supervision Model (QReCS).

A ‘teletrials’ initiative led by Prof Sabesan in collaboration with the Clinical Oncology Society (COSA) is also under development. This will facilitate better access to clinical trials for rural and remote patients.