Rural connections

Nursing student Sian Sunckell investigates how telehealth might reduce inequities in access to health services.

Rural populations face many constraints when trying to access health services in New Zealand. They have to travel further to access care, especially specialist options, which means increased travel time and expense.  Diversification in health service delivery can help to remove access inequities. As technology develops it can open doors for health professionals to work with people, communities and colleagues in new ways, helping to overcome access inequities. 

Telehealth can use a range of technologies including telephone, internet and video calls. Telehealth can also be used in a variety of ways:

  • To empower patients to take an active role in their own health, increasing health literacy and keeping people well and at home for longer.
  • To facilitate collaboration between health professionals, helping with professional development, collegiality and retention of medical staff in geographically isolated areas.
  • To provide quicker and more cost effective access to specialist advice, both indirectly through rural medical practices and directly, for example with a speech language therapist.

There are some challenges to be overcome in the implementation of telehealth, such as the need to have up-to-date reliable equipment for accurate monitoring of health conditions, and the need for stable and high speed internet connectivity for reliable and high quality communication. Telehealth usage and therapeutic relationship building can be enhanced and supported with supplementary face to face sessions

June 2021

Image credit: Army Medicine, sourced from Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0