At the Leading Edge of Care

Tunstall

Three years ago, the company acquired the telehealth arm of its business, which had already been in the market for ten or so years throughout Europe and in the US.

“Telehealth, from our experience,” explains Tunstall General Manager Lyn Davies, “is providing support for people from their own home to enable them to manage their health in a more proactive way than they have traditionally been able to do.”

In doing so, Tunstall supplies individuals with advanced equipment and services to provide knowledge and information to assist them in monitoring their vital signs. This support can then be combined with that provided by traditional community care bodies and health care professionals. Services used in conjunction with telehealth range from clinical care support to carers assigned by community organisations who help work with patients in improving their overall independence.

Equipment provided is varied and might include anything from a simple alarm for social inclusion or in the event of a fall for an emergency, through to a full telehealth solution which could include vital sign monitoring equipment with familiar peripheral devices. Equipment is connected by Tunstall’s systems which use a traditional phone line, mobile network or even offering service over Internet Protocol. The company has also forged strong relationships with strategic partners who supply it with complimentary devices and services.

In addition, Tunstall offers solutions to healthcare providers, using the same platform, tools and information which can be accessed on a tablet through the touch of an icon. In this way, individuals can easily and immediately communicate, via video, face to face with their carer.

Explains Lyn Davies, “This helps individuals to be able to provide more information back to their carer, and also to be more proactive about being involved in their own care. It’s about being able to stay at home and also about regularly being able to find out more information about their own health.” The platform, which has been on the market for a long time, allows information to be shared between nurses and health professionals, making it an attractive option for customers.

Tunstall is one of the few telehealth providers worldwide that actually manufactures these types of supportive devices while also offering a full care service solution. In addition to the actual monitoring, the company takes responsibility for the complete process from software, equipment, customer service, integration, to training and project management for clinicians as well as all education, documentation and standards information necessary for patients.

“We also provide what we call technical triage,” says Ms Davies. “So if a patient, for example, is regularly supposed to be taking a vital sign in the morning, sometimes the nurse or the carer isn’t able to be sitting at their desk looking at that information coming through. What we provide is a call centre type of service where we do that for the clinician or the GP or the carer or the family or whoever. We provide that first level support to just make sure that the patient is actually looked after on a day to day basis and we are able to do that for a very low fee.”

Furthermore, Tunstall provides a co-monitoring service, whereby the company works closely with the nurse practitioner or the GP service to make certain that alerts are sent through when they are too busy to look for those alerts personally.

“So if someone’s blood pressure is outside of their parameters, which is set into their unique client record, our trained clinicians here can actually highlight that quickly to someone or they can send through a report to make sure there is a full closure of services and nothing gets missed.”

In this way, Ms Davies says the company is able to “close the loop” on healthcare communications, providing a full understanding about how the service works, installing it for customers, educating those involved, and also being involved in the day to day operational service delivery.

“There are people who are struggling to be able to provide alternative models of care and there are real challenges ahead to be able to resource and look after people and enable them to stay at home. I think that it becomes a lot easier if you know that there are solutions out there that are cost effective and that will make a real difference.”

As the industry matures, it is becoming a much more interesting time to be involved in telehealth solutions. Though not fully established as a separate industry just yet, technological community care solutions providers are seeing a growing demand from the health industry in general.

“Our role is to educate and make aware to the community organisations that do this sort of work that these services are available. They’re ready to be used and they complement the current health care models,” enthuses Ms Davies.

“There are a lot of very dedicated people in the market now who are caring for people out of hospital and trying to keep them in the home – independent – and they’re aware that this technology can help them be able to reach more people because they can do things remotely.”

As the technology has matured, the associated implementation and operational costs have decreased. This has proven advantageous to the industry at it allows for telehealth systems to become more accessible to consumers.

“I think that the industry is becoming much more aware of these alternative solutions that can enhance traditional care. It’s growing and there is a lot more focus by government on these types of services.”

With development projects in the works for products geared toward helping to find dementia patients who may have wandered away from home, Tunstall is using advanced tracking, satellite and Google mapping technologies. This system will work in conjunction with the company’s pre-existing monitoring system as well as through devices that can be worn like a watch.

“Dementia is a very big problem in Australia as it is worldwide and it’s one of the services that we can offer that can help people as humanely as possible with low level support that is unobtrusive to their daily lives.

“I think we’re going to have to be diverse and flexible as we move into the market because this area of telehealth is a very unusual type of service delivery; it’s new and people aren’t familiar with it. Technology can be a little bit strange and as a business we’re here about partnering with people and really listening to their needs.”

The industry is still wrought with challenges associated with the perceived complexity of telehealth systems, which Ms Davies contends are simply a fear-based myth. In working with a company, she says that Tunstall first assesses the individual needs for the particular business involved in order to hand-select the necessary and relevant devices and supports. From there, Tunstall is able to step up in maintaining these systems, thereby in fact reducing the complexity of comprehensive healthcare for the care provider.

Moving forward, one of the most significant changes Ms Davies recognises for the future of telehealth care is that of regulations and standards.

“I think that’s going to have to be a very important part of telehealth because of privacy and even just needing a very high definition, clear video because you’re dealing with people with chronic disease –their body language, their mannerisms, the way they look – that’s all going to be a large component of telehealth solutions.

“So we’ve got to be really flexible and that can be a challenge but we’ve got a lot of experience in this area from our work in the UK and over in Europe where telehealth has been around for about the last five years, so we draw from that and we draw from our parent company and we’ve got a lot of support to be able to understand what the future is going to hold. We are ready!”

On the horizon, Ms Davies says that the telehealth market can expect some exciting opportunities. “I think it’s going to be interesting if you come back to me a year from now and see how the year has turned out. There is a lot happening in Australia itself. I think the National Broadband Network (NBN) is going to make a big difference. It is going to enable a very high standard of video conferencing and I think that will certainly add value to people at home.

“People still want to have face to face interaction, especially if they can’t afford to travel and they feel that they can’t get to a specialist; this will enable that. I think that the NBN is a great innovation for Australia and I see telehealth as being a part of that.

“Some people are worried,” she says, “that there won’t be a take-up or there won’t be money to implement telehealth; but it surprises us day to day how our patients who are often in their seventies and their eighties are quite open to using innovative technology and how much funding is already being invested in pilots and programs to evidence the cost effectiveness. The future is very exciting.”

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January 18, 2018, 8:44 AM AEDT

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