Background: Diabetes-related foot disease (DFD) accounts for up to 75% of lower-extremity amputations globally. Rural and remote communities are disproportionately affected by DFD. Telehealth has been advocated as a strategy to improve equity of access to health care in rural and remote communities. Current literature suggests that successful implementation of telehealth requires access to adequate reliable equipment, staff training, and support. A real-time video-based telehealth foot service (TFS) for delivering DFD management has recently been established in a Vascular Surgery and Podiatry clinic within a large South Australian metropolitan hospital. The purpose of this study was to gain insights into the experiences of rural and remote health professionals utilising the TFS, as this could be invaluable in optimising the uptake of telehealth use in DFD.
Methods: This exploratory, descriptive qualitative study employed one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with health professionals who utilised the service. Thematic analysis using an essentialist inductive approach was employed.
Results: Participants included 14 rural and remote health professionals; 2 general practitioners, 2 nurses, 1 Aboriginal Health Practitioner, and 9 podiatrists. In addition, 2 metropolitan-based TFS staff were interviewed. Five key themes were identified. 'Patients have reduced travel burden' included that telehealth enabled Indigenous patients to stay on country. 'Patients had increased psychosocial support' covered the benefits of having health professionals who knew the patient present in consults. 'Improved access' incorporated how telehealth improved interprofessional relationship building and communication. 'Technological and equipment challenges' highlighted that poor network connectivity and poor access to equipment to conduct telehealth consults in rural areas were barriers. The last theme,'Lack of service communication to rural health professionals', highlighted the need for communication around service details.
Conclusion: Telehealth is a valuable tool that can improve access to treatment for rural and remote Indigenous DFD patients. While this has the potential to improve DFD outcomes, empirical data is required to confirm outcomes. Considering the advantages of telehealth and rural staff shortages, there is an urgent need for investment in improved equipment and processes and an understanding of the training needs of the health care workforce to support the use of telehealth in DFD management.
Keywords: Diabetes-related foot disease; Indigenous; Real-time video-based telehealth; Remote; Rural.
© 2023. The College of Podiatry and the Australasian Podiatry Council.