INTRODUCTION: In the rural Midwest region of Western Australia (WA), wound care is a major burden on the healthcare system. Optimal wound care was found to be impeded by issues that included the involvement of multiple healthcare providers, incomplete and inconsistent documentation, and limited access to expert review. A telehealth solution was trailed in 2007. Objective: To describe the systemic barriers encountered in implementing a telehealth program in rural WA and to provide recommendations for future telehealth initiatives. METHODS: This study trialled the use of a shared electronic wound imaging and reporting system in combination with an expert remote wound consultation service for the management of patients with chronic wounds in the Midwest of WA. The trial sites included rural hospital out-patient clinics, a private domiciliary nursing service, residential aged care facilities, general practices and a podiatry clinic. The implementation conformed to accepted best practice in introducing telehealth initiatives. RESULTS: During the trial 12 sites had the relevant software installed and were able to access a central server. Although a total of 41 patients with chronic wounds were enrolled, four sites did not enroll any patients and only two sites successfully incorporated the system into regular practice. Major obstacles were workforce issues and significant delays in installing the software at some sites. Only 47% of the healthcare providers trained to use the software at the beginning of the trial were still employed when the trial ended. Prolonged periods of vacant positions at one remote clinic and an aged care facility made it impossible for the remaining providers to allocate time for using the wound care software. CONCLUSION: The disease burden of the patient group, funding models and workforce shortages frustrated the successful adoption of an evidence based strategy that was known to improve health outcomes.
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