Friday, 10 September 2010

Financial and externality impacts of high-speed broadband for telehealth

High-speed Broadband, especially for rural and regional Australia, has become a much-discussed national issue in the last month. Tele-health via Broadband offers the potential for significant gains to Australia's population, especially for people who are elderly or who live in rural or remote communities. Unfortunately, however, despite a myriad of tele-health studies, it is difficult to measure such benefits. Tele-health studies to date have been constrained by poor economic and health data and methods. Most studies have, however, shown that tele-health is cheaper and faster (and at least equally effective) compared to transporting patients or health care providers over large distances. Thus, it should be possible to estimate time and money savings at a national level, if not health gains.

The report, Financial and externality impacts of high-speed broadband for telehealth prepared by Access Economics and commissioned by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, analyses the potential impacts of telehealth under a National Broadband Network. The report incorporates qualitative discussion of tele-medicine for remote consultations, remote home-based monitoring of chronic-disease patients and the aged, and remote training of medical professionals; together with high-level quantitative analysis of their associated costs and benefits.

Using a combination of a national level United States (US) study into one aspect of tele-health (tele-consulting) and a national level Australian study that was mostly based on electronic health records but had tele-health components, Access Economics estimates that steady state benefits to Australia from wide scale implementation of tele-health may be in the vicinity of $2 billion to $4 billion dollars per annum.

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