Ear Portal: An urban-based ear, nose, and throat, and audiology referral telehealth portal to improve access to specialist ear-health services for children
Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare
National Health and Medical Research Council
NHMRC Number : GNT 1142897
Introduction: Shortage of ear, nose, and throat specialists in public hospitals can result in delays in the detection and management of otitis media. This study introduced a new hospital-based telehealth service, named the Ear Portal, and investigated its role in improving access to specialist care. Methods: The study included 87 children (aged 6 months to 6 years) referred to a tertiary children's hospital due to otitis media-related concerns. A specialist multidisciplinary team met fortnightly to review pre-recorded data and provide care plans. Results: The service resulted in a median waiting time of 28 days to receive a diagnosis and care plan by the multidisciplinary team, compared to a mean waiting time of 450 days for a reference group receiving standard healthcare services. Most children (90.3%) received bilateral ear diagnosis. Normal findings were found in 43.9%. However, the majority required further ear, nose, and throat with or without audiology face-to-face follow-up due to a diagnosis of middle-ear disease, unknown hearing status, or concerns not related to ears. The mean time required for clinical assessments completion by research assistants and multidisciplinary team review was 37.6 and 5.1 min per participant, respectively. Discussion: Children in the Ear Portal service received a diagnosis and care plan in a median of 28 days, which is within the clinically recommended timeframes. With sufficient clinical information, this service can provide faster access to specialist care than the standard healthcare pathway. The service can reduce the time required by the specialist to provide a diagnosis and care plan which may help increase the specialists’ capacity.