Background: The use of telehealth technology to enable real-time consultations between patients and specialist services (to whom travel may be an impediment to the patient’s care) has recently been encouraged in Australia through financial incentives. However, the uptake has been both fragmented and inconsistent. The potential benefits for patients include access to a broader range of specialist referral services, cost and time saving, and more rapid access to specialist services and a continuum of care through the triangulation of interaction between patient, primary health care providers (general practitioners and nurses), and specialists. Enhanced broadband connectivity and higher-grade encryption present an opportunity to trial the use of telehealth consulting as an intrinsic element of medical education for both medical students and doctors-in-training within rural practices and Aboriginal Medical Services.
Objective: This paper discusses the reported, and varied, benefits of telehealth consulting arising from a multisite trial in New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of this study is to encourage the use of selected telehealth consultations between patients in a primary care setting with a specialist service as an integral aspect of medical education.
Methods: The trial closely followed the protocol developed for this complex and multiaspect intervention. This paper discuses one aspect of the research protocol—using telehealth consultations for medical education—in detail.
Results: Qualitative and quantitative analyses were conducted. In the quantitative analysis, free-text comments were made on aspects of Telehealth Consulting for the patient, concerning the quality of the interactions, and the time and cost saving, and also on the leaning opportunities. Students commented that their involvement enhanced their learning. All respondents agreed or strongly agreed that that the interpersonal aspects were satisfactory, with some brief comments supporting their views. In the analysis of the qualitative data, five themes emerged from the analyses concerning the educational benefits of Telehealth Consulting for different levels of learners, while three themes were identified concerning clinical benefits.
Conclusions: The results demonstrated strong synergies between the learning derived from the telehealth consulting and the clinical benefits to the patient and clinicians involved.