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Not going to the doctor could actually be better for us, CSIRO says

Forget the hospital waiting room -- new research from CSIRO says telehealth technology could save Australia AU$3 billion a year in medical costs, and reduce the frequency and length of hospital visits.

CSIRO trialled telehealth devices that featured video conferencing and messaging capabilities, as well as monitors for heart rate, blood pressure and other key vitals.

The health industry has been talking up the potential benefits of telehealth for some years now, and if it means not having to sit in a crowded waiting room getting coughed on by a stranger, we're on board.

But new CSIRO research points to another major benefit of telehealth: It will save us AU$3 billion a year in medical costs.

It's a simple enough concept. Patients with multiple chronic conditions, especially elderly Australians who might be juggling cardiovascular problems alongside diabetes or chronic lung disease, need regular check ups. But they often just need monitoring, rather than intensive one-on-one time in a doctor's surgery. And considering that aged patients with multiple conditions account for 70 percent of expenditure in Australia's health system, the potential savings are huge.

The solution? Get a device into the patient's home to monitor vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, weight and blood sugar, and have a health professional working remotely to provide feedback on the patient's condition.

Trialling this kind of system over 12 months, CSIRO found telehealth could save Australia significant time and resources.

"In addition to a 24 percent savings of Medical Benefits Scheme expenditure over one year, the trial also showed a substantial 36 percent decrease in hospital admission and most importantly a 42 percent reduction in length of stay if admitted to hospital during the 12 month trial," said CSIRO lead researcher Dr Rajiv Jayasena.

"This is a huge saving when you consider the cost of a hospital bed per day is estimated to be about $2051 in Australia."