How do health providers ensure that primary healthcare services are delivered locally to the more than 100 Aboriginal communities across the Kimberley?
The Kimberley covers around 423,517 square kilometres across the northern tip of Western Australia. Its rugged geography, unsealed roads, hot temperatures, and monsoonal rainy season means that it is one of the country’s most remote, and at times most inaccessible, areas.
The Visionflex ProEX telehealth system with approved medical devices. For the first time, the Visionflex telehealth system makes remote medical examinations in the Kimberley a reality.
Telehealth – transforming Indigenous primary health care services.
With financial assistance from the Woodside COVID-19 Community Fund, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), a peak body overseeing the delivery of primary health care to many of these remote communities, is currently deploying the Visionflex ProEX telehealth system across the region.
KAMS Medical Director, Dr Lorraine Anderson, expects the ProEX telehealth system and peripheral medical devices will transform the way remote medical examinations are performed.
“The ProEX system is going to mean that there’s a better, more accurate service going into these communities,” said Dr 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.”
Easy-to-use and secure, with the click of a button, the ProEX delivers health services and medical expertise to patients in the Kimberley via HD video conferencing; while the medically approved digital and analogue devices revolutionise the way a physician or nurse can examine, diagnose, monitor, and treat remote patients.
For Kimberley Aboriginal communities, the ProEX telehealth system:
- 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.
Clinical capabilities via telehealth.
KAMS is using the ProEX Telehealth Hub and Telehealth Cabinet solution for clinics with limited space where secure storage is required; the ProEX Telehealth Hub with Telehealth Cart for situations where equipment needs to be easily moved from room to room; and the Backpack Kit with ProEX Mobile for easy transport to remote clinics.
KAMS is also utilising 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.
With these devices, health professionals can perform remote general imaging; ear, nose, and throat examinations; wound management; dental examinations; ophthalmology; dermatology; mental health; speech pathology, along with many other patient observations via Bluetooth and USB-connected devices.
Until now, says Dr Anderson, KAMS’ existing telehealth system had no clinical capability.
“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, everyday 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.”
Telehealth – helping to Close the Gap in access to primary healthcare.
Based in coastal Broome, 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.
Many Kimberley 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.
Dr Anderson is careful to point out that telehealth will never be a replacement for in-person medical visits; but she believes the 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.”
Made by Australians, for Australian conditions.
Visionflex was started in 2014 by two Australian engineers who had a dream to provide equitable access to health care across the country.
Designed and manufactured in Australia, the Visionflex system is unique because it supports a range of medically approved devices that allow full clinical examinations via telehealth.
Using the ProEX, diagnostic patient data collected can be shared, recorded, and saved to an electronic health record (EHR) system for future reference or review. The ProEX store-and-forward capabilities provide added flexibility for travel to outreach clinics. All patient data is encrypted to comply with HIPAA requirements.
Multiple ProEX units can be easily programmed to communicate securely with each other and share information in a customised network via the units’ VF Sync software.
The ProEX delivers world-class sound and HD vision, and it can connect with multiple participants on any PC via a local network, WiFi, and the internet. With simple, intuitive controls, and large HD screens, the ProEX is a pleasure to use.
ProEX units have multiple ports for optimum connectivity including HDMI, USB, DVI, CVBS and S-Video inputs, as well as LAN, Bluetooth, and WiFi capability.
All 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.
Learn more about the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services: