A telemedicine trial that enables specialists to assess sick infants in regional and country areas has won the Queensland Health Minister’s ‘Best Innovation’ award at the 2011 Queensland Health Healthcare Improvement Awards.
The project was developed as a research partnership between The University of Queensland’s Centre for Online Health research fellow, Dr Nigel Armfield, and Royal Women’s Brisbane Hospital (RWBH) neonatologist, Dr Tim Donovan.
Dr Armfield said due to vast distances it can take many hours to reach a sick baby.
“Telemedicine allows specialists to remotely assess an infant’s condition, colour, breathing and also examine medical images in real time using audiovisual links,” Dr Armfield said.
“The trial demonstrated that telemedicine is an effective and economical way to provide early diagnosis and management advice for sick infants from rural and remote areas.
“It allows some infant retrievals to be avoided allowing infants to be managed at hospitals closer to home and their families.”
In the 12-month trial period, five infant retrievals were avoided and management changes were made in 14 percent of cases.
The telemedicine program has been trialled with infants from Hervey Bay, Nambour, Caboolture and Redcliffe Hospitals to determine whether telemedicine was a viable approach to overcome the health care access impediments of distance and time.
The RBWH completes more than 169 neonatal retrievals each year, travelling about 66,500 km by plane, helicopter and road, with round trips ranging from 11 to 1,500 kilometres.
The Centre for Online Health (COH) is one of very few research and teaching centres in the world, which focuses on the evaluation of telehealth for the delivery of health services.
Centre for Online Health
The Centre for Online Health’s (COH) goal is to research and develop best practice models in online healthcare that are applicable to Australia and other countries. COH is one of very few research and teaching centres in the world that focus on the evaluation of telehealth for the delivery of health services. The Centre is part of the School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences and undertakes research and teaching in the area of clinical support using telehealth/telemedicine (the delivery of health services at a distance using a range of communication techniques). The COH is situated on the Herston campus within the Royal Children's Hospital with a primary focus on providing and evaluating services for children and families in Queensland. Lessons learnt during the last decade are now being applied across the age spectrum to support our adult and aged care population. The COH is responsible for a broad range of collaborative projects, which explore and evaluate innovative methods of providing clinical services in metropolitan and regional health centres.
The COH has established and evaluated a novel telepaediatric service in Queensland for more than 11 years. This research program has been extremely successful, demonstrating a unique method of coordinating telehealth services for children in Queensland. The study demonstrated that by offering a centralised call centre (single point of contact) for clinicians in remote areas, telehealth consultations were a viable option. The services established during this project have helped improve access to specialist services for children and their families living in rural and remote communities throughout Queensland.
• The COH partnership with the Children’s Health Service (Queensland Health) has resulted in the operation of the largest paediatric orientated telemedicine service (telepaediatrics) in Australia.
• Telepaediatric services are now delivered to patients in 103 sites throughout Queensland, including Mt Isa, Mackay, Hervey Bay, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Nambour.
• A range of communication technologies are used - including email, telephone and videoconferencing. About 90% of all referrals result in a consultation via videoconference.
• More than 12,500 consultations have been conducted for children living in regional and remote areas of Queensland.
• The telepaediatric service offers a broad range of specialist clinical services for families living in regional towns throughout Queensland.
• More than 37 different paediatric sub-specialties are offered, including burns, cardiology, diabetes, ENT (ear, nose and throat), neurology, orthopaedics, psychiatry and surgery
• Economic analysis shows there are substantial cost savings for the health care provider (Queensland Health), related to a potential reduction in patient travel expenses.
• A study of family costs shows significant savings for families who are able to attend a specialist appointment in their regional hospital (via videoconference), compared to families who travelled to the RCH to see the specialist in person. Regional families were also saved time, personal expenses and stress associated with having to travel to Brisbane.
• After three years, the trial of a mobile telemedicine clinic in Cherbourg for Indigenous children at risk of ear disease causing hearing impairment has dramatically improved screening rates from about 45% to over 82% of all children living in the South Burnett region of Queensland.
• The work in telepaediatrics has expanded into other areas including neonatal and paediatric intensive care, health screening for indigenous children, home telehealth support and email based telehealth.
• The telepaediatric service has also been well supported by staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and at regional hospitals throughout Queensland.
For further information please see the Centre for Online Health website – www.uq.edu.au/coh
Dr Anthony Smith, Associate Professor, Deputy Director, Centre for Online Health, +61 7 3346 4702, email@example.com.
Dr Nigel Armfield, Research Fellow, Neonatal and Paediatric Intensive Care Telemedicine, Centre for Online Health, +61 7 3346 4949, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kirsten Rogan, UQ Health Sciences Marketing & Communications, email@example.com, 0412 307 594.