World-first program saving Queensland lives

A world-first tele-medicine program at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital is slashing waiting times for rural and remote Queenslanders needing diagnostic heart testing, allowing them to access specialised cardiac investigations close to home.

Queenslanders living in remote areas are about 25 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than the state average, but many are reluctant to travel long distances for medical appointments.

RBWH Director of Cardiac Sciences Adam Scott, who developed the award-winning program, said the hospital was performing more than 1700 heart procedures via telehealth in 22 bush communities annually.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase in demand for the remote testing, which has the potential to save lives.

He said the hospital was able to provide crucial services, such as 24-hour heart rhythm monitoring, to locked-down indigenous communities, such as Mornington Island and Doomadgee, hundreds of kilometres away, during the COVID-19 crisis.

Plans are also underway to expand the service into the Woodford Correctional Centre, 100km north of Brisbane, cutting the costs of transferring prisoners to hospital and avoiding the risks of them escaping during medical appointments.

Adjunct Professor Scott said specialists at the RBWH worked with staff at remote health centres and hospitals to conduct exercise stress testing.

A live video feed of the electrocardiograph monitor, recording the electrical activity of the heart, can be viewed in real time by the RBWH specialists during the stress test. The results are immediately available to the RBWH team using remote access software.

Tele-health also allows remote Queenslanders to undergo 24-hour heart rhythm monitoring, with staff at their local health centres applying the Holter monitor with guidance from the RBWH telemedicine team.

The RBWH experts can then remotely access software to program and start the recording and then transfer data to analysis software for immediate reporting.

In a letter published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Prof Scott said the program had significantly increased the number of people from participating indigenous communities undergoing diagnostic heart testing.

He said the service had also reduced waiting times for bush Queenslanders needing the heart tests and drastically cut the amount of travelling required by hundreds of kilometres per patient.

Prof Scott said he hoped to take the service to more indigenous communities.

"We are already talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership about expanding it," he said.

The service won international recognition for "best technology" at last year's European Society of Cardiology Congress.

Prof Scott, chairman of The White Cloud Foundation, a charity which aims to improve awareness and access to treatment for depression, has also developed a tele-health model to help improve mental health in the Queensland bush.

For more information: whitecloudfoundation.org

 

Originally published as World-first program saving Queensland lives