$5m spotlight on telehealth research

Brandon How

Six telehealth research projects will share in more than $5 million in grants to build an evidence-base for how the service can be best used, after broad uptake during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the grants announced Monday are supporting projects in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

Pre-pandemic, telehealth services accounted for just one of every 2,000 Medicare services delivered. But as of 2022, telehealth now accounts for 330 of every 2,000 and reaches 620 when considering GP-specific Medicare services.

The telehealth grants were announced Monday, almost two months earlier than expected, with funding awarded through the one-off ‘Targeted Call for Research: Ensuring the quality and safety of telehealth 2023’.

Among the successful applicants, most of which received grants just under $1 million, is a collaborative project on improving the design of virtual emergency department services being led by Flinders University Professor Jonathon Karnon.

Projects investigating telehealth delivery to people living in residential aged care and to rural and remote Australia are being led by the University of Sydney’s Professor Meredith Makeham and James Cook University’s Professor Sarah Larkins respectively. A full list of funded projects is below.

When the grant program opened to applications in July 2023, it was initially anticipated that successful applicants would be announced in June 2024, according to peer review guidelines.

Health minister Mark Butler said the expansion of telehealth in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crammed “10 years of change in 10 days”.

“Telehealth has become a permanent feature of the health system today, as both patients and providers enjoy its convenience and potential to remove the tyranny of distance that has sometimes made health service delivery so challenging for rural and remote Australia, in particular,” Mr Butler said.

“The Albanese Government is committed to unlocking telehealth’s potential, while also ensuring its safety and quality for patients.”

The program has four objectives that aim to provide evidence to inform future health policy on telehealth and improve existing service delivery.

This includes an aim to identify measures to guide decision making on the use of telehealth by health providers, develop tools and supports to improve telehealth delivery, and to develop evaluation methods on clinical and economic effectiveness.

The program also called for work to understand the factors that influence the effectiveness of telehealth among different populations, health conditions, and interactions.

Details of the projects funded are as follow:

Administering Institution Chief Investigator Application Title Budget Grant Duration
University of Melbourne Professor Elif Ekinci Advancing quality and safe Virtual Diabetes Care in Emergency Settings (VIRDI) $915,823.40 2024 to 2026
La Trobe University Professor Della Forster Does offering a combination of video health and face-to-face visits for antenatal care result in improved patient experience and is it as safe as standard (face-to-face) care? A co-designed non-inferiority randomised controlled trial $999,585.40 2024 to 2028
James Cook University Professor Sarah Larkins Leveraging NQ telehealth experience for contextually-informed process guidelines to optimise health service access, quality and safety in rural and remote Australia $997,376.40 2024 to 2028
University of Sydney Professor Meredith Makeham The general practice and residential aged care study of telehealth augmented holistic care – exploring safety, quality, acceptability and sustainability: ‘The GRACE-Telehealth Study’ $999,969.95 2024 to 2027
Flinders University Professor Jonathan Karnon Enabling safe, high quality and high value virtual emergency care in Australia $999,945.60 2024 to 2026
Australian National University Professor Christine Phillips Enhancing safe telehealth for all in high risk consultations: a multiperspective, mixed-methods study $602,998.00 2024 to 2026

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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