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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
 

Telehealth increasing early detection in outback Australia

Indigenous Australians at risk of permanent blindness caused by diabetes are receiving world-class health care thanks to a new initiative funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation. Tele-retinal imaging, which aims to prevent disease through early detection, has been set up in health clinics in remote parts of Australia, such as Miwatj, in East Arnhem Land, about 1,000 kilometres east of Darwin. Routine screening has also started in Alice Springs and Katherine.

Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation said, 'This technology is the next big jump in the delivery of health services to Indigenous Australians since Fred’s time. It puts the best of technology right into the hands of Aboriginal health care workers, the people right on the front line.'

When patients come into the health clinic, their eyes are examined with a retinal camera. The images are sent and examined at a reading centre in Melbourne. Rather than wait weeks – and in some cases, months – the results are sent back to doctors within two days.

'This dramatically improves the turnaround time of the results,' says Alicia Jenkins, Professor of Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at The University of Sydney and one of the experts who has developed the technology. 'This is a wonderful use of technology to overcome the remote location and shortage of doctors in the region,' she says. 'There has been a huge need for this for some time.'

The imaging process is just one aspect of the $3 million TEAMSnet program being rolled out by The Fred Hollows Foundation in partnership with The University of Sydney, The University of Melbourne, and other Australian institutions.

The project also features a high-tech electronic medical record system aimed at preventing chronic disease. As soon as the doctor or health worker enters a patient’s name, every test the patient has undergone is displayed. This can range from cholesterol levels, to blood pressure, X-rays, and any recommendations made by dieticians or health workers about their health and weight.

Sven-Erik Bursell, Professor of Telehealth at The University of Sydney, is another key driver behind the project. 'More than 50% of Indigenous people with diabetes are not getting access to appropriate eye care to prevent blindness,' he said. 'When you use telehealth in this way, you can get through a lot more in 15 minutes because the doctor doesn’t have to spend that time asking basic questions. They can spend the time talking and learning more about the patient.'

'It helps GPs make the right choice about a patient,” he said. 'It’s a tremendous tool in the fight against diabetic retinopathy.'

Source: Fred Hollows Foundation

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Last updated: 13 December 2013
 
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