At the Neurological Council of WA (the NCWA), we have been using telehealth to deliver our Neurocare service since 2016. Initially, the introduction of this technology assisted us in providing support to post-stroke survivors in regional areas, in particular the Wheatbelt.
Today, we use telehealth to support our clients in metro and regional areas, no matter their neurological symptom or condition. This technology has also been an important and essential tool in our delivery of care to clients during COVID-19.
We proudly share with you a brief background of our history with telehealth.
Post-stroke health support for rural West Australians
Before the introduction of telehealth at the NCWA, research had found that an estimated 700 people living in rural Western Australia suffered from a new stroke every year, with regional Australians 19 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke than those living in metropolitan areas.
Research also showed that people living in rural and remote regions had poorer post-stroke outcomes and limited access to support services. Eighty-eight per cent of stroke survivors lived at home.
For people living in regional areas, such as the Wheatbelt, access to services was either limited or not available. Due to the relatively small numbers of patients and their geographical spread, delivering a traditional in-reach service was challenging.
Subsequently, improving the delivery of specialist support to regional clients was identified as a key priority by the WA Country Health Service (WACHS).
In 2016 we joined the WACHS-NCWA TeleNeurocare Service project. This partnership came about due to our:
- pre-existing relationship with the WACHS;
- established services supporting stroke survivors; and
- links with the St John of God Midland tertiary stroke unit (a provider of acute stroke care to the central Wheatbelt region).
The NCWA an early adopter of telehealth
The Royalties for Regions Southern Inland Health Initiative project provided an opportunity to address service gaps, supporting health service reform via telehealth to trial TeleNeurocare service delivery.
Working in partnership with the WACHS, we developed a model of community neurological nursing with a mix of face-to-face and telehealth follow-up consultations.
The WACHS – NCWA TeleNeurocare service was established to trial the delivery of Neurocare consultations via telehealth to Wheatbelt stroke survivors and their carers.
The service commenced in late 2016, with the first referrals made in January 2017 and the first direct TeleNeurocare consult starting in February 2017. In just five months, 23 clients had been set up for TeleNeurocare consultations in the home, with seven new pending referrals.
The results were positive.
The evaluation of the service confirmed the positive experience for clients and impact on outcomes, and our Neurocare team valued the provision of in-house services via telehealth, as a flexible option for post-stroke support. As a result, the technology became an option to all new (broad neurological symptom and diagnosis group) eligible clients and the service was expanded to all WA Country Health Service regions in 2017/2018.
Due to the successful rollout of telehealth, we were supported by the WA Health Department with funding for further developments in our videoconference infrastructure to support state-wide delivery of neurological information and education service via telehealth. Our funding broadened capacity to support the rural population in managing a range of neurological conditions. At the NCWA, we are committed to helping our integrated neurological nurses in maintaining competence in the use of telehealth as part of day-to-day business.