Tuesday 27th August 2013
New models of care using video and other technologies have the potential to provide all Australians with health services that are currently only available in big cities.
However, such technologies need a stable and reliable internet connection at higher speeds than ADSL technology is able to deliver across Australia’s existing copper telephone network.
High speed broadband is therefore essential to help close the health care gap between cities and country areas, rural health experts say.
About seven million people, or 32% of Australians, live outside major cities. On average, they suffer poorer health and lower life expectancy.
The top priority recommendation from this year’s national rural health conference, organised by the National Rural Health Alliance, was the completion of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Under the Labor government’s NBN, 93% of Australians will get the fastest internet technology available with fibre optic cable running to their homes, schools and workplaces.
The remaining 7% will get fixed satellite and wireless, which deliver speeds equal to or faster than the fastest current ADSL connections over copper wire.
In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, the National Rural Health Alliance, which includes the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said high broadband speeds were crucial to new models of health care, such as those that use high-definition videoconferencing, data exchange and high-resolution image transfer.
High speed broadband would, for example, allow an interactive videoconference consultation between an acute burns treatment team in a capital city hospital, and a rural outpost trying to treat severe burns patients following a serious accident.The internet connection would need to be fast enough and stable enough for a two-way, real time conversation to take place, with good visualisation of the patients and their injuries.The Alliance said the NBN would help rural health providers to use the skills of city-based specialists in many areas including psychiatry and psychology, skin cancer assessments, eye health and rehabilitation.
It said the NBN would give health professionals in remote areas access to higher levels of professional support and education, as well as helping them to maintain social links.
The NBN also has the potential to help meet the growing demand for aged care services by enabling elderly Australians to stay in their homes and connect via video with health professionals, as well as family and friends.
Labor’s $37.4 billion NBN will give 93% of Australians the fastest internet technology available using fibre optic cable. The other 7% will receive alternative technologies delivering speeds similar to the fastest current ADSL plans. Everyone will be connected by 2021.
The Coalition promises a cheaper system – about $17 billion less than Labor’s – to be finished two years earlier. However internet speeds will be much slower. That’s because the Coalition plan involves running fibre optic cable to roadside cabinets and then using the old copper telephone lines to connect to homes.
The Greens support Labor’s fibre-to-the-home system and criticise the Coalition’s model as an inadequate short-term solution.