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A new Australian telehealth service for remote Aboriginal communities.

Announcement posted by Visionflex 11 Aug 2021

Aboriginal Australians living in some of the world’s most isolated locations will soon be experiencing remote medical examinations for the first time, with the roll out of a new Visionflex telehealth system. 

The Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) is a peak body that oversees delivery of primary healthcare across the vast Kimberley region in the north-west corner of Western Australia. With financial assistance from the Woodside COVID-19 Community Fund, KAMS is currently deploying the Visionflex ProEX telehealth system across the region. 

Visionflex is a leading Australian designer and manufacturer of innovative telehealth technology that enables health practitioners around the world to deliver medical care via real-time, high-definition video conference and remotely perform detailed clinical medical examinations. 

KAMS Medical Director, Dr Lorraine Anderson, expects the Visionflex telehealth system will transform the delivery of primary healthcare to Aboriginal communities in the region: This is because the ProEX system supports a suite of approved medical devices, revolutionising the way remote medical professionals examine, diagnose, monitor, and treat Aboriginal patients who, importantly, can now remain in community for healthcare. 

“The ProEX system is going to mean that there’s a better, more accurate service going into these communities,” said Dr Anderson who is based in Broome on the far north coast of Western Australia. “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, Mr 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 requires patients to travel out of community, usually alone, to larger centres such as Kununurra, Broome, Perth (more than 2,000km from Broome), and Darwin (1,800km 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: 
• Allows remote doctors to see inside a patient’s ear, nose, and throat, and to listen to and observe diagnostic quality heart, chest, and body sounds in real-time. 
• Delivers remote medical specialists and allied health professionals anywhere, anytime. 
• Keeps health decision making in the community. 
• Helps patients remain in community for treatment. 
• Reduces the cost and stress of travel for unnecessary medical visits. 
• 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 says 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,” said Dr Anderson. 

“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.” 

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.

Telehealth – helping improve remote Aboriginal health. 
KAMS is a member-based, regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) that supports and represents the interests of seven independent Kimberley ACCHOs and oversees five very remote clinics. 

The delivery of quality, timely primary healthcare to Kimberley Aboriginal communities is vitally important. 

According to the WA Country Health Service 2018 Kimberley Health Report**, when compared to the general population, Australia’s Indigenous population has higher rates of cancer, heart disease, self-harm, and mental health issues; higher rates of alcohol- and tobacco-related mortality and motor-vehicle accidents; greater rates of acute and chronic health conditions, as well as preventable childhood disease including chronic ear problems. 

Kimberley Aboriginal people also experience much greater rates of potentially preventable hospitalisations, including hospital admission rates for cellulitis and pneumonia, that are five times the WA average. 

Dr Anderson is careful to point out that telehealth will never be a replacement for in-person medical visits; but she believes the Visionflex ProEX 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,” said Dr Anderson. “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.” 

About Visionflex: Visionflex was launched in 2014 by two engineers with the vision of improving access to medical services for people living across the vast and remote Australian continent. 

Today, Visionflex has developed a telehealth hardware and software system that supports a suite of approved medical devices, revolutionising the way medical practitioners can examine, diagnose, monitor, treat, and engage with remote patients around the world. All patient data can be securely shared, saved, and stored in an electronic health record system. 

Visionflex products are IEC 60601 compliant, making them suitable for clinical medical assessments. Visionflex is also certified ISO 13485:2016 for the manufacture of non-sterile image capture and data storage systems for medical devices.