Innovative healthcare delivery to our most remote regions


Monday, 16 August, 2021

Innovative healthcare delivery to our most remote regions

A groundbreaking telehealth service is reaching remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley. The technology allows doctors to ‘see’ their patients remotely using connected examination tools such as digital stethoscopes and high-definition cameras.

Aboriginal Australians living in some of the world’s most isolated locations will soon be able to receive remote medical examinations for the first time, with the rollout of a new telehealth system from Visionflex.

The technology enables health practitioners around the world to deliver medical care via real-time, high-definition video conference, and remotely perform detailed clinical medical examinations. Visionflex’s ProEX system supports a suite of approved medical devices, revolutionising the way remote medical professionals examine, diagnose, monitor and treat patients who, importantly, can now remain in community for health care.

Peak body, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), oversees delivery of primary health care across the Kimberley region in the north-west corner of Western Australia. With financial assistance from the Woodside COVID-19 Community Fund, KAMS is deploying the Visionflex ProEX telehealth system across the region.

KAMS Medical Director Dr Lorraine Anderson expects that the Visionflex telehealth system will transform the delivery of primary health care to Aboriginal communities in the region.

“The ProEX system is going to mean that there’s a better, more accurate service going into these communities,” Dr Anderson said.

KAMS Medical Director Dr Lorraine Anderson.

“It’s going to be more timely, so patients are not going to have to wait until the doctor comes and it’s also going to mean that people don’t have to leave the community as often to seek medical care outside.

“We will also be able to look after a significant proportion of people by using telehealth.”

Visionflex CEO and Co-founder Mike Harman said, “Bringing health services to remote communities around Australia is a huge challenge and KAMS has been a leading example on how this can be achieved in the Kimberley region of Australia. The area covered by KAMS and the number of communities they work with is staggering when we remember that this is one of the most remote regions in the world.

“The team at Visionflex are thrilled to be working with KAMS on this important rollout of telehealth technology to bring the communities closer together and to improve their access to health services.

“As an Australian technology provider, we appreciate the confidence that KAMS has placed in us to help them meet the challenge and we look forward to working closely with them to achieve a successful outcome.”

In the Kimberley, many communities do not have full-time doctors on site and appointments for medical and specialist treatment as well as hospital care, typically require patients to travel out of community, usually alone, to larger centres such as Kununurra, Broome, Perth (more than 2000 km from Broome) and Darwin (1800 km away).

Travelling out of community without any family support can be a stressful experience for a culture that traditionally practises informed, group decision-making. Travel costs are also prohibitive, with specialist visits typically requiring at least three appointments, including a pre-op consultation and post-treatment check-ups.

Language and medical terminology are additional barriers. For many Kimberley Aboriginal people, English is their third or fourth language and they may require assistance at medical consultations to translate or explain treatment details.

For Kimberley Aboriginal communities, the ProEX telehealth system, plus medical devices, offers several key benefits:

  • Remote doctors can see inside a patient’s ear, nose and throat, and listen to and observe diagnostic quality heart, chest and body sounds in real-time.
  • Delivery of remote medical specialists and allied health professionals anywhere, anytime.
  • Health decision-making is kept in the community.
  • Patients can remain in community for treatment.
  • The cost and stress of travel for unnecessary medical visits is reduced.
  • Facilitates training and mentorship of local healthcare workers.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2018–19, Indigenous Australians experienced a burden of disease that was 2.3 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. This overall poorer health result creates a greater need for access to health services.

Dr Anderson said that until now, KAMS’ existing telehealth system had no clinical capability, which meant Kimberley Aboriginal people often had to leave their communities and travel huge distances for medical treatment.

“We were unable to see into throats, or to listen to hearts and lungs. These were big issues and that is what we’re looking to resolve with the Visionflex equipment that we have purchased,” Dr Anderson explained.

“We’ve got very good clinicians, nurses and Aboriginal Health Practitioners on the ground in our clinics, but we don’t necessarily have doctors in every clinic, every day and there are no doctors on call in the clinics at night; the on-call process has traditionally been by phone.

“What our Visionflex equipment means is the patient can be seen. The patient has got a clinician with them — either a nurse or an Aboriginal Health Practitioner — and they can dial up the doctor and the doctor can instruct them on what they need to do.

“They can see through the Video Examination Glasses and know exactly what the Health Worker is looking at. They can take photos and video, and it’s all done in real time across the technology.

“Most importantly, the technology is going to allow, for example, the nurse or health worker to look inside someone’s throat, and for the doctor on the other end to be able to see what they are looking at so they can make a diagnosis and treat accordingly. The same applies to looking in ears.

“The other piece of equipment that we’re very excited about is the digital stethoscope. We can listen to heart sounds and we can listen to lung sounds and the doctor at the far end can get the health worker or the nurse to just pop the stethoscope in the right place, get the patient to breathe, and the doctor on the other end can see and hear what’s going on.

“This will transform a lot of the work we do across telehealth.”

Visionflex’s Digital Stethoscope ProEX Telehealth Hub.

KAMS is using Visionflex’s desktop ProEX Telehealth Hub and the tablet-size ProEX Mobile to conduct real-time telehealth video conferences, plus a range of Visionflex-approved medical devices including digital stethoscope; pulse oximeter; blood pressure monitor; infrared forehead thermometer; and video USB otoscope with LED illumination. KAMS is already using a pair of Visionflex Video Examination Glasses HD.

Dr Anderson was careful to point out that telehealth will never be a replacement for in-person medical visits, but she believes the new system will greatly improve health outcomes for Kimberley Aboriginal people, and support closing the gap on access to primary healthcare services.

“We know for sure that the health outcomes are better when people can be treated in community,” Dr Anderson said. “They feel comfortable in the community clinic with one of the clinicians… We’ve got people who can translate; we’ve got family who can support; and it makes a big difference — it’s more acceptable and it’s safer for people.”

Main image caption: The town of Balgo (Wirrimanu) is one of Australia’s most remote Aboriginal communities located in the south-east Kimberley region of Western Australia on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert and on the western edge of the Tanami Desert.

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