The country's first paediatric telemedicine project has completed its first round of testing and should go live to 11 hospitals early next year.
The New Zealand TelePaediatric Service (NZTPS) will allow health professionals to collaborate over cases without either the medics or patients leaving their home towns.
Project manager Simon Hayden says the service has been trialled between Auckland's Starship, Middlemore and Greenlane hospitals and has already impressed doctors involved with the service.
"We've done a broadcast of our grand rounds at Starship where a specialist will talk about a specific case. At the moment if they want to see it doctors have to come to Starship and even for doctors at Middlemore, that's an hour each way. Doctors can't afford to take that kind of time out."
The project was set up by Auckland's Starship Hospital after four years of fundraising and coordinating efforts and will allow medical professionals to not only see each other or patients over a video conferencing link, but also to share data such as scans and X-rays.
"We tried that out at Greenlane from one building to another. Our major issue there is of course bandwidth." Hayden says transferring data at 512Kbit/s meant the image wasn't good enough for medical work and they will be investigating a minimum of 1Mbit/s.
"An experienced doctor could read it but he definitely wasn't comfortable putting someone new on at that speed so we'll be looking at the 1Mbit/s mark. If it's something like a baby's heart it has to be exact."
Hayden says NZTPS looked initially at running the service over ISDN lines but found the cost was prohibitive. It's now working with Telecom to provide an all IP system for delivery to the 11 sites.