Above: Tunstall Australasia CIO, Geoff Feakes, left, with Senator Stephen Conroy at the 2012 Australian Telehealth Conference last week in Melbourne.
By Stephen Easton
A leading telehealth vendor has demonstrated a new high definition, multi-user telehealth video conferencing system that combines with vital signs monitoring and requires no special software to run at the doctor’s end.
Tunstall Australasia has claimed the demonstration of the new telehealth solution at the 2012 Australian Telehealth Conference in Melbourne last week as a “world first” and a “monumental achievement”.
From the conference hall in a Melbourne hotel, Dr Kevin Arlett and Dr Karen Carlisle spoke with diabetes care coordinator Julie Randall, who was located at the Townsville Mackay Medicare Local office, as well as her patient Heather, who was elsewhere in Townsville.
Tunstall Australasia’s chief information officer, Geoff Feakes, described the launch as “months of hard work translated into reality” and said it would not have been possible without the high-speed broadband that will eventually be available nationwide through the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Mr Feakes explained that the video conferencing was purely web-based for the health professional at the other end, meaning patients could consult any health professional who has a broadband connection and a normal web browser. There is no need for the healthcare provider at the other end to install any special software or hardware.
Above: The “patient-centric environment” of Tunstall’s myclinic tablet, which can monitor vital signs and facilitate secure videoconferencing with any healthcare professional who has a fast broadband connection and a normal web browser.
Tunstall’s new video conferencing solution is offered through the company’s myclinic tablet, which also monitors a person’s vital signs using Bluetooth wireless measuring devices, allowing remote management of chronic diseases with fewer visits to a hospital or clinic.
“The Tunstall solution for telehealth is all about vital sign monitoring in the home and now, allowing the video conferencing in the home at the same time,” Mr Feakes said.
Until now, the two types of telehealth – video conferencing for healthcare consultation and vital signs monitoring for chronic disease management and early diagnosis – have generally been separate.
Video conferencing has so far attracted more support from the federal government, through Medicare rebates for certain video consultations and short-lived incentive payments to encourage the uptake of video conferencing equipment by doctors and aged care facilities.
Medicare rebates have so far not encouraged GPs to consult with their patients at home via video, although many doctors and telehealth experts hope the government will soon support this type of consultation.
Mr Feakes said he hoped the new offering from Tunstall would facilitate telehealth video consultations beginning to occur in the home.
“This is the stage where we move beyond clinics to the client’s home, and it would certainly also work the same in a retirement village,” he said.
“What Tunstall have developed is a secure tablet kiosk that allows the patient, via a single button, to activate video conferencing or do their vital sign monitoring on the same tablet device.
“And that device, for its video conferencing function, uses the benefits of the NBN – a high speed, highly resilient network, and also enables the vital signs monitoring that GPs, care staff and allied health staff can access for their records.
“The tablet uses normal Internet services and requires no special software for a GP or care provider to be installed for a video conference with a patient. Simply an internet browser and Flash Player is all that is required for the GP, specialist or allied health professional.”
Mr Feakes said the tablet-like device with its new features was being marketed towards community care organisations, Medicare Locals, hospitals and organisations who case-manage people with chronic health conditions. Along with Townsville Mackay Medicare Local, the new solution is also being used by NBN-enabled Telehealth Pilots in Armidale and Kiama.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, opened the conference and was given a sneak preview of the NBN-enabled telehealth demonstration, as he was not able to attend in person.
“[Mr Conroy] wasn’t able to view the demo, however his policy adviser and the rest of his departmental team were there, and they were very excited to see it,” Mr Feakes said.
“We received feedback that the minister was pleased that it had gone well, and that we were able to very capably demonstrate the qualities of the NBN.”