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Keywords:

  • telemedicine;
  • rheumatology;
  • remote consultation;
  • rural health;
  • access to healthcare

Abstract

Australia is a vast country with one-third of the population living outside capital cities. Providing specialist rheumatologist services to regional, rural and remote Australians has generally required expensive and time-consuming travel for the patient and/or specialist. As a result, access to specialist care for remote Australians is poor. Rheumatoid arthritis is a common disease, but like many rheumatic diseases, it is complex to treat. Time-dependent joint damage and disability occur unless best evidence care is implemented. The relatively poor access to rheumatologist care allotted to nonmetropolitan Australians therefore represents a significant cause of potentially preventable disability in Australia. Telehealth has the potential to improve access to specialist rheumatologists for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, thereby decreasing the burden of disability caused by these diseases. Advances in videoconferencing technology, the national broadband rollout and recent Federal government financial incentives have led to a heightened interest in exploring the use of this technology in Australian rheumatology practice. This review summarises the current evidence base, outlines telehealth's strengths and weaknesses in managing rheumatic disease, and discusses the technological, medicolegal and financial aspects of this model of care. A mixed model offering both face-to-face and virtual consultations appears to be the best option, as it can overcome the barriers to accessing care posed by distance while also mitigating the risks of virtual consultation.