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Telehealth revolutionising diabetes management and costs

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Telemedicine is providing better care at lower cost for diabetes patients in rural and remote areas.

This is according to a James Cook University (JCU) study that shows telelmedicine to be boosting the health of diabetes patients, saving them money and taking pressure off the health budget.

Nisha Nangrani, a sixth-year medical student at JCU, found the Diabetes Telehealth network operating from Townsville Hospital is making significant gains in helping diabetics to manage their symptoms.

The service enables remote patients to have regular consultations with a Townsville Hospital endocrinologist via satellite link.

The study found that patients with lifestyle-related Type 2 diabetes, as well those with uncontrolled diabetes (wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels) and hyperglycaemia (consistently high blood sugar levels) scored the biggest improvements.

The research reveals that patients, who previously travelled to Townsville for face-to-face consultations, showed a 20 per cent improvement in their hyperglycaemic levels after they switched to telehealth care.

The economic benefits to the Queensland healthcare system are yet to be further explored but the Diabetes Telehealth project has shown it is generating substantial cost savings, as well as better health outcomes.

“We are doing something that seems to benefit almost everyone involved. It’s better for the patient. It’s easier and more convenient for endocrinologists. We’re saving the healthcare system money,” Ms Nangrani said.

Over the past eight years, the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute has been involved in remote diabetes services and have highlighted the extreme levels of ill health associated with poorly controlled diabetes in these communities.

The remote clinical services they visit are generally ill-equipped to manage complex chronic disease and the type of diabetes we see is aggressive and unusually resistant to treatment.

While the study did not investigate patient satisfaction levels, the researcher believes that access to the telehealth service boosted patient motivation.

“Because we are trying not to inconvenience them by making them travel all the way to Townsville just to see a doctor, they’re happy with the way they are receiving health care and more motivated to look after their diabetes,” she said.