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Boost to enhance telehealth experiences for patients and doctors

Monash University researchers will lead a $2 million Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) project to enhance telehealth capabilities that aim to improve patient, clinician and caregiver experiences for mental health and palliative care services. 

The new “Enhanced Telehealth Capabilities” project will deliver user-centred and research-based software solutions to enhance telehealth services like real-time transcription, smoother integration of personal diagnostic data from medical devices and better accessibility for the elderly or Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The project will be led by Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT). Affiliates include Monash Health, researchers from the University of Melbourne, industry partners, Healthdirect Australia and the Department of Health (Victoria). 

Project Lead, Associate Professor Rashina Hoda, from Monash University’s Faculty of IT, said with more than 16 million Australians accessing health services remotely since March 2020, it is essential that telehealth experiences are robust, especially for those in regional and rural communities. 

“We will be working closely with patients, caregivers and doctors to understand their needs and create software solutions like providing language translations, explanations for medical terminologies in real-time during medical appointments, better integration of portable medical devices and generating consultation summaries to support patients and doctors etc,” Associate Professor Hoda said. 

“We are looking to augment current web-based video telehealth services with further enriched clinical capabilities support that will create more streamlined and reliable systems, while maintaining the privacy of all the users involved.”

Researchers from the Faculty of IT will be working with mental health and palliative care researchers to better understand the needs and sensitivities of the specific sector. 

Project collaborator from the University of Melbourne, Professor Victoria Palmer, said there has been a significant increase in the number of people experiencing mental health issues due to the pandemic. 

“Creating better and more accessible telehealth enhancements would mean more doctors and patients are supported for an improved telehealth experience that can lead to better health outlooks,” Professor Palmer said. 

“The project is especially important for palliative care patients and their carers who have difficulty accessing in-person consultation and will provide data and enhancements to better support virtual care,” Director of Supportive and Palliative care at Monash Health and project collaborator, Associate Professor Peter Poon, added. 

Neville Board, Victoria’s Chief Digital Health Officer, said the solutions developed through the project will provide critical evidence in Victoria. 

“We are pleased to be supporting this project to improve the patient and clinician experiences of virtual care throughout the state,” Mr Board said. 

DHCRC Chief Innovation Officer, Dr Stefan Harrer, said the Centre was proud to bring together clinical, academic, industrial and government trailblazers in consumer-centred agile telehealth service development and deployment. 

“Our investment will deliver real-world mental health services providing improved patient experiences and outcomes in Victoria while at the same time laying the foundation for the developed telehealth services to seamlessly scale and be adopted beyond Victoria and palliative care; nationally and globally,” Dr Harrer said. 

Over the next two and a half years, the research team will be working closely to enhance virtual care capabilities with Australia’s national public telehealth provider, Healthdirect Australia.

Once developed, the improved video telehealth solutions will be available to Victorian clinics using Healthdirect Australia Video Call. 

This project is supported by funding provided to Digital Health CRC Limited under the Commonwealth Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Programme.

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