Waitemata Health has launched a remote consultation service via Telecom’s broadband videoconferencing.
Telecare was officially launched last month, and allows Waitemata Health’s mental health service to provide remote consultation services to patients in Warkworth and Waitakere. It has also been used to provide consultations in Australia and potentially could be extended further overseas.
Waitemata Health runs three Pict-uretel venue 2000 videoconferencing systems using Telecom ISDN lines at the speed of 384Kbit/s.
Telecom’s Graeme Rowe says there is potential to develop Waitemata Health’s telemedicine applications to run as an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) trial, enabling the high-speed, simultaneous transfer of large quantities of voice, data and graphics.
Clinical leader of the Telecare project Dr Martin Orr, of Waitemata Health, says the main clinical link at present was between Waitemata Health and Warkworth.
Orr says the new system won’t replace traditional health care, but can be integrated into it.
“If someone really needs to be seen in person, we’ll go and do it, day or night.”
But he says the videoconferencing system will allow some patients to be seen more quickly.
“Instead of them waiting an hour or so for a doctor to get from North Shore Hospital [Waitemata Health] up to Warkworth, the doctor can go to North Shore Hospital and the patient can go to the Mental Health Centre up in Warkworth and be able to see the doctor in as long as that takes.”
However, the system is more likely to be used for general patient care, rather than emergencies.
“I would have seen a patient two weeks ago in person. Last week I would see him on the telemedicine system. Every two weeks I would see him in person and every week in between on the telemedicine
Orr says the system is better now it is running at a speed of 384Kbit/s rather than 128Kbit/s it began with.
“It makes a huge difference in terms of the picture and sound quality. Previously there were some difficulties in terms of sound delay and being able to see facial expressions, but a lot of those difficulties have been removed.”
He says the concept might sound “space-agey”, but was not that different from what doctors and patients were doing already using telephones — it just added a visual element.
Orr says it was not implemented to save money, but to improve the quality of care.
The fact it had been used in trans-Tasman consultations already shows coverage could be extended to patients overseas. Orr says that in future medical expertise here could be exported to other countries, and any profits from such consultancies could provide further local care.