PCHSS Researcher and Senior Research Fellow at University of Queensland, Dr Liam Caffery, explains what telehealth is and why it’s important to health system sustainability.
My main area of research is telehealth, and I would probably describe that as trying to design a way so it’s much easier for people to see a doctor or other health professional. Not only trying to design that way but working out if it’s a better way of seeing the doctor or health professional compared to what they do now.
What made you pursue this area of research?
I really like the blend of clinical care and technology. I’ve got a bit of both a clinical background and a technology background, and it’s a lovely way of marrying these two areas of interest.
What question do you most often hear at work?
Probably the most common question I hear is, ‘Isn’t telehealth just Skype?’ And yes, it is Skype, and one avenue of telehealth is video conferencing; but it does downplay how complex it is to implement telehealth. We’ve got a behemoth of a health system that is really reticent to change, so introducing a new technology is difficult.
We’ve seen this with other digital health initiatives such as My Health Record. There are complexities around privacy; there are complexities around changing the models of care; there are complexities around the medical legal risks that practitioners are exposed to.
But telehealth is about the willingness to change. It’s a different payment model. And it’s how well consumers will actually use a service. And that also dictates the uptake of telehealth.
How does your work contribute to health system sustainability?
We just think sometimes technology is better and cheaper than the other way of doing healthcare – and we’ve seen this with internet shopping and internet banking and other things. But in health, we just can’t make that assumption. Telehealth is a new way of delivering healthcare; we also need to work out if it’s cheaper and it’s better. If we can work out that it is cheaper and better, or when it is cheaper and better, then that can contribute to healthcare sustainability.
How has collaborating with PCHSS impacted your research?
It’s broadened the outlook. We now have access to a great team of people that have very interesting and diverse approaches to how we can improve the health system. The motivation that you get from working with that group of people has been really good. Also, the networking with healthcare providers as well as other researchers with other areas of expertise has really helped with my research.
What might you be found doing outside work?
I reckon it’s got something to do with food. I think three of my favourite things are eating, drinking, and conversation. I love to prepare the food; one of my great passions is cooking. And you cook to share – whether that’s with family or family and friends. Conversation, food and wine all go together hand in glove.
If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
I think there are two personalities that I’m really intrigued by, so I’m going to say two people: Nick Cave and Quentin Tarantino. I think they are somewhat similar; they are certainly not conventional personalities, so I think the conversation that you could have with the two of them would just be incredible. I think the dinner party would go on for many hours.
What was the last great book you read?
I’m going to say a trilogy, Louis de Bernières’s Latin American trilogy: The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, and Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord. An eccentric set of novels about a fictitious village in South America. Eccentric and funny – I loved it.
This article is one of our Telehealth Awareness Week stories. Be sure to check out our piece on Dr Centaine Snoswell, (PCHSS Researcher, Health Economics Research Fellow at University of Queensland).