Internet lag affecting doctors: AMA

Internet lag affecting doctors: AMA

Lagging connection in rural and remote areas in compromising medical development, says the Australian Medical Association.

The AMA on Tuesday released its position paper about rural health and internet connectivity. 

AMA Tasmania vice president Dr Annette Douglas said regional and remote communities across Tasmania already dealt with disadvantages compared to their more metropolitan counterparts. 

“These communities often have more difficulty accessing health services close to home, are more likely to put off visiting their GP due to distance and cost, and have higher rates of potentially preventable hospitalisations,” Dr Douglas said. 

“It is essential these Tasmanians have access to the same standard of health care, including that provided via technology, as those living in our cities.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Tasmanian GP Dr Bastian Seidel, said the issue affected doctors more than patients. 

Dr Seidel said speeds of 20 megabytes per second were required for GP video consultations, although there were not many conducted in Tasmania.

“GP practices need reliable and fast internet in order to communicate with hospital, radiology and pathology providers,” De Seidel said.

“I’m in Huonville and could not get certainty [about the] NBN rollout for our area.”

This led to exploring other costly alternatives as the practice expanded, Dr Seidel said.

“Affordability and reliability are the key issues here, not absolute speeds,” he said. 

The AMA called on the federal government to implement actions including expanding the NBN’s fibre cable and fixed wireless footprints and mobile coverage; develop measures to prioritise or optimise the broadband capacity available for hospitals and medical practices; and engage with state and local governments and stakeholders to achieve the optimum overall infrastructure outcome for their areas. 

A Federal Health Department spokeswoman said the department welcomed the AMA’s “strong commitment to delivering health services to rural, regional and remote communities”. 

“Delivering health services through fast broadband will be critical in meeting the future health challenges in the bush,” the spokeswoman said.

“Working to get NBN back on track has resulted in the connection of 1.65 million Australians to the NBN in recent times.”

Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the state government was “committed to better eHealth, a fundamental element of a modern health system”. 

“This government has delivered a single digital medical record across all Tasmanian hospitals – this is a national first and is providing better, safer, patient care,” Mr Ferguson said.