Early bugs in telemedicine link

New Zealand's first major telemedicine development has attracted sharp criticism from one of its early users, though he expresses confidence that the bugs will be cleared up in the longer term.

New Zealand’s first major telemedicine development has attracted sharp criticism from one of its early users, though he expresses confidence that the bugs will be cleared up in the longer term.

The application of teleconferencing to paediatric medicine, coordinated by the New Zealand TelePaediatric Service (Kids get telemedicine network), was launched with fanfare last month.

However, asked last week what he and his team were using it for, Thorsten Stanley of the Wellington School of Medicine, one of the reference users of the product, replied “nothing — and I’m not going to use it for anything until the quality improves”.

His experience was lessened by “major pixelisation” and loss of synchronisation of image and sound, along with poor audio quality, he says.

Stanley subsequently toned down his criticism, pointing out that it came from his impression of the system at its formal launch.

“They are having difficulties, but we’re aware of the fact that it’s an uncompleted system.”

He has confidence, he says, that the network, intended eventually to spread to 11 hospitals, will come right with more work.

“We saw a similar system earlier, provided by another developer, and that worked well.”

The system has “fantastic” potential, Stanley says, to facilitate consultation between medical experts in different centres.

“Early remote identification of a patient’s condition through X-rays, sonic scans and other diagnostic images could save the patient a needless trip to another part of the country.”

Diagnosis can potentially be improved by feedback on the images presented, says Stanley. Instead of sending a plate by courier or post that proved useless for diagnosis, a doctor on the other end of a realtime link “could say ‘that’s rubbish, I can’t do anything with that image; if you look from a different angle and turn the gain up, I might be able to see something useful’.”

Simon Hayden, national manager of the New Zealand TelePaediatric Service, says the poor images and sound were only in evidence at the launch event, when “there were a few LAN issues”. The system had been “connected up a different way” from that typically used, with a video mixer involved to juxtapose images from different locations.

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