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Satellite technology connects Western Desert communities to first class health care

The delivery of high-quality health care via satellite technology is transforming the lives and wellbeing of remote Western Desert communities in Kunawarritji, Punmu, Parnngurr and Jigalong, who previously had to travel to thousands of kilometres by land and air to attend medical appointments.

The first telehealth hubs are being rolled-out this year in these communities, as part of a one-year Staying at Home pilot program funded by BHP and delivered by Puntukurnu  Aboriginal Medical Service (PAMS) and Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PAMS CEO Robby Chibawe said the impact and difference that the telehealth hubs are having is profound.

“These people are part of Australia now. With the equipment and better internet, at least they can actually get high quality health care, including specialist care on country,” he said.

“Before, it could take six days to get from the desert to Perth for an appointment, which would involve arranging drivers and flights and possibly an escort if English is the patient’s third or fourth language.”

Registered nurse and team leader Regina Visser at the Jigalong Health Centre said the telehealth hubs are being used for a huge range of medical services from cardiac and orthopaedic follow up appointments to mental health and advice with specialists.

“What is really great is that we are with the patients during the telehealth appointments so we can also speak up for them, especially if English is not their first language and ask the necessary questions and monitor the progress of their issues,” she said.

 “We have one patient who uses the telehealth for mental health and is reviewed by a psychiatrist each week, and another lady who is a paraplegic who needed assistance with a significant wound, so having the telehealth instead of having to manage the logistics of moving her to see a specialist was really great.” 

Newman Futures supported the engagement and design of the Staying at Home pilot project, in collaboration with PAMS, Department of Communities, BHP and KJ, who are also establishing digital hubs to support basic banking and other transactions in the Western Desert communities.

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