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Going the distance with rural telehealth services

We take a closer look at how the nbn™ broadband access network is aiding telehealth services in rural Australia.

What would you do if your child needed specialist health services but you lived hundreds of kilometres from, well, anywhere?

It was growing up on a property in south west Queensland that speech pathologist Heidi Begg first identified the need for rural and remote families to have better access to allied health services.

“My older brother has Down syndrome, and we often had to travel long distances for specialist appointments. This was challenging from a time and cost perspective, and I knew there had to be a better way.”

Setting up SPOT Rural – an online speech pathology practice – as a part-time business in 2015, Heidi quickly realised that the needs of rural families would keep her busy full-time.

Heidi Begg from SPOT Rural Services with her brother.

“People in the bush don’t have the same access to services and the same quality of services as our city counterparts,” Heidi said.

“That was really obvious to me when I moved to Sydney to work; there’s so much choice and competition. I set up SPOT to provide some choice of service for every rural and remote family.”

It’s a sentiment reflected in NBN Co’s regional prioritisation of the nbn™ broadband access network.

Fifty-eight per cent of the four million homes and businesses now connected to services over the nbn™ access network are located in regional and rural Australia. Connected like never before, this prioritisation is helping to shrink the digital divide between the city and the bush, and provide access to broadband to those who need it most.

Turning to telehealth

Now that an increasing number of ‘her’ families are signing up to services over the nbn™ access network, Heidi said connectivity struggles have largely changed.

“Delivering speech therapy services online requires a quality internet connection at both ends. I need to be able to clearly see my client’s mouth and face, and the picture needs to match with the sound: this is vital for diagnosis and therapy.”

Natalie Kenny is one of the rural mothers benefiting from Heidi’s online services – and access to broadband over the Sky Muster™ satellite service.

Natalie  lives with her husband and four children in Llanarth, which is more than three hours south of Townsville in North Queensland.

“My son has been using SPOT Rural for a year to assist with his learning,” Natalie said.

“We can’t access these services locally, so we would have to travel to Townsville, which just isn’t practical. Having access to Heidi online means he gets the help that he needs. I am not sure what we would have done if Heidi’s service didn’t exist.”

Natalie concedes she was initially reluctant to sign up to a Sky Muster™ service after hearing stories about early teething problems.

“Not having access to reliable broadband makes our lives more difficult in the bush. I can’t educate my children without it, so I was worried about switching.

“But after speaking with other people who had made the switch, and comparing prices to my previous service, I decided to give it a go – and I’m so glad I did. It’s made a real difference in terms of cost and experience.”*

Heidi – who runs her business on her existing internet connection – says that clients like Natalie are the exact reason she started her business.

“From my perspective, the nbn™ access network has made a massive impact on my rural and remote families. Their connection has been a lot better; they are able to do more live video, there are less glitches and the audio quality is great.

What we are trying to do is bring top-quality [speech therapy] services to people in the bush that they’ve never had before. And with the help of the nbn™ access network and Sky Muster™ satellite service, we can do that with more people and better than before.*

“A good internet connection, such as via Sky Muster™, is helping families like Natalie’s to receive online health services.”

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Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams

Ryan is Head of nbn™ local, Queensland at NBN Co.

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