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Original Research

Making a case for telehealth: measuring the carbon cost of health-related travel

Submitted: 26 June 2013
Revised: 22 July 2013
Accepted: 22 July 2013
Published: 2 December 2013

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Author(s) : Ellis I, Cheek C, Jaffray L, Skinner TC.

Isabelle EllisTimothy Skinner

Citation: Ellis I, Cheek C, Jaffray L, Skinner TC.  Making a case for telehealth: measuring the carbon cost of health-related travel. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2723. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Background:  Telehealth services are promoted to reduce the cost of travel for people living in rural areas. The previous Australian Government, through the national Digital Economy Strategy, invested heavily in telehealth service development, at the same time introducing a carbon pricing mechanism. In planning a range of new telehealth services to a rural community the authors sought to quantify the travel conducted by people from one rural area in Australia to access health care, and to calculate the associated carbon emissions.
Methods:  A population survey was conducted over a 1-week period of health-related travel events for the year 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012 of all households on King Island, a community situated between the Australian mainland state of Victoria and the state of Tasmania. Validated emissions calculators were sourced from the Carbon Neutral website, including the vehicle and fuel use calculator and air travel carbon calculator, to calculate the total emissions associated with the fuel burned in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).
Results:  Thirty nine percent of the population (625 participants) reported a total of 511 healthcare-related travel events. Participants travelled a total of 346 573 km and generated 0.22 tCO2e per capita. Participants paid the cost of their own travel more than 70% of the time.
Conclusions:  Dependence on fossil fuels for transport in a carbon economy has a significant impact on total healthcare carbon emissions. Alternative models of care, such as telehealth, need be developed for an environmentally sustainable healthcare system for rural and remote areas.

Key words: carbon emissions, environment, health-related travel, population survey, telehealth.

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