Saving lives with videoconferencing

By Andrew Collins
Wednesday, 07 November, 2012 | Supplied by: Alloy Computer Products Pty Ltd


Lower Murray Medicare Local (LMML), a healthcare provider in the Mildura area, has constructed a videoconferencing room in a local hospital, drastically reducing the time patients must wait in order to see specialist doctors, and potentially saving lives.

The organisation is one of many federally funded Medicare Locals and has a remit to identify healthcare service gaps and improve health outcomes in its domain. As a rural area, Mildura has very few medical specialists. Residents with significant health concerns must go to Adelaide or Melbourne. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of public transport to major cities.

This places a burden on the elderly, who may find the trek to a major city too physically demanding, and the poor, who may not be able to afford to book hotels to stay overnight in the major cities. Some specialists visit the community several times a year, but with a massive backlog, some people have to wait more than a year before even getting an initial visit with a specialist. Even then, only the worst patients are seen. As a result of these problems, many individuals simply don’t get any treatment at all.

Troy Bailey, IT Manager at LMML, said several of these visiting specialists recommended videoconferencing as a means of providing telehealth. Bailey researched various systems, eventually settling on a Vidyo VidyoPortal server from an Australian reseller, which is now housed in an ISP’s local data centre.

The system provides web-based teleconferencing - participants can log into a conference using an HTTPS-enabled web browser. LMML created what Bailey calls a “video consulting suite” - he installed a 50″ plasma TV, a new PC and a camera at a local hospital, providing a place for local residents to teleconference with their remote specialists.

Since installing the system, residents in the area have much greater access to specialists, with waiting lists cut by two thirds. One endocrinologist visits the area three times a year, and with hundreds of type-one diabetics in the area, patients waited more than a year to see him.

On top of these physical visits, he now runs eight video clinics a year, where patients take it in turns to sit in front of the plasma TV in the hospital. “Instead of waiting 12 months if you’re lucky to see him, now you wait two months,” Bailey said. LMML can also take computers out to individuals that can’t make it into the hospital for a teleconference, further extending the reach of specialists.

General practitioners often sit in the room with the patient, speaking to the remote specialist. “Suddenly you’ve got a neurosurgeon on your computer screen. That neurosurgeon is upskilling the GP,” Bailey said. “The GPs are saying ‘we never get to talk to these specialists’. After you graduate, you’re sent out into the world and you never see [these specialists] again. But now they’re interacting.”

The system has also improved access to services that “never existed”, Bailey said. LMML was recently approached by a major Melbourne hospital that wanted to start a remote stroke clinic in Mildura, via LMML’s videoconferencing system, and the two are working together to make this a reality. LMML is also looking at starting up a similar remote psychogeriatrition service.

Phone: 03 8562 9000
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