Breaking new ground in telehealth

Danijela Hlis doesn’t mind telling you she’s one of the hundreds of people from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background a little reluctant to embrace new technology. 

A published writer Danijela’s passion is dementia research and how to best assist those who lose the capacity to recall English as their second language due to dementia and ensure their inclusion in society.Daijela and her mum

Danijela’s reluctance to embrace new technology changed when she took part in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre (CDPC)’s Technology and Telehealth Workshop.

The workshop introduced participants to the world of technology and telehealth and prompted them to consider how the technologies and protocols might be applied to the care of people with dementia.

Danijela heard from Professor Len Gray Director of the Centre for Online Health. He showed how their group was leading the way in consultations at a distance and spoke of significant cost savings. Tele rehabilitations, Res Ecare, CeGa, Neo Rehab, were briefly mentioned.

“Dr Liam Caffrey spoke to us about implementing “fit for purpose” video conferencing solutions; we discussed choices of network, equipment, software, physical environment and also measures of quality,” Danijela said.  

“Dr Anthony Smith, Deputy Director, Centre for Online Health, University of Queensland, spoke of the increased use of telehealth for patients living in remote areas, or for those who have difficulty travelling to a medical facility.”

Danijela said Dr Melinda Martin-Khan, a Research Fellow, Centre for Research in Geriatric Medicine, University of Queensland, looked at cognitive assessment at a distance: a specialist completing a consultation via video conferencing; a registered nurse administering MMSE on paper via video conferencing; a computerised cognitive test done on IPad and calculated results automatically sent electronically to a doctor or hospital.

InterRAI (International Collaborative to Improve the Quality of Life of Vulnerable People) was highlighted, which is an innovative nursing home assessment and OMNIBUS assessment where a doctor does not see the patient.

“Apparently still a lot of GP’s ask why is it important to have timely diagnosis for dementia if there is no prevention and cure? And I know one who asked me: “Why would you want to know? You will only stress and panic!” To which I replied: “It is to enable me to PLAN my life!” Danijela said.

Professor Elizabeth Beattie, from the Queensland University of Technology spoke about the need to really embrace technology both in the field of nursing and among carers. There are over one million carers in the dementia field in Australia and may have limited use of available technology. Optimum care is far from being reached. 

“Professor Trevor Russell, Co-director Telerehabilitation Research Unit, University of Queensland, gave us a good overview of a Telehealth technology specifically for home-based telehealth interventions, physiotherapy, telerehab, speech pathology, and also spoke of the validity of conducting clinical dysphagia assessments with telehealth, because good outcomes are possible,” Danijela said. 

Danijela cared for her mother who had dementia for ten years in Tasmania. Now retired, she is a volunteer with COTA - (COTA Ambassador Qld), and a ComLink bi-cultural social support worker for clients from Italian, French, Slovenian and German background  who have dementia.        

Some of the requirements and benefits for Telehealth Danijela identified are the need for it to be portable, connect anywhere, with audio, available from any computer, with real scale measurements and Advanced Media Clips and storage. 

“For example, a patient clicks on an icon on his home screen and enters a “consultation room”; interaction between clinician and patient is very good,” Danijela said.

Professor Len Gray gave some examples from his town of Dalby, in the local hospital and residential aged care facility. Fellow consumer advocate, Elaine Todd and Danijela spoke to Dr Amanda Miller Amberber from the Australian Catholic University, who is very passionate about all issues relating to the needs of CaLD members of community.

“New technology is changing provider control to consumer control and empowering the patient. We heard how Japan plans to build robot nurses to assist caregivers. We don’t have enough interpreters, and computer translations have to improve,” Danijela said.

“We should really encourage people born overseas and who have children born here to bring them up bi-culturally.”

Danijela thought an App could be developed to assist young people tap into their culture and language.

“Could we come up with a new App for the young: Dementia and your elders: how not to forget your culture & language?” Danijela said.

“I spoke about possible partnership with CaLD communities, day centres and clubs, in sharing the cost of installing technology that can then be used for leisure as well as health, and even consultations.  

“But we could go a step forward in enabling the person with dementia to be able to use some new technology;  maybe we could have an App that is all the time on the person, like dentures are; and can be activated from a distance by another person? Imagine the power of communications, counselling sessions, in the person’s mother tongue?” Danijela said.

“The CDPC is to be congratulated in assisting consumers like myself to attend such very useful and informative workshops.”

A webinar was held as part of the workshop, which is freely available here