Networks can combat ageing: Trujillo

With Australia now facing an ageing population -- and the added stress of having one of the most geographically dispersed people -- Telstra's CEO Sol Trujillo is talking up the Internet as one way to tackle upcoming health issues.

With Australia now facing an ageing population -- and the added stress of having one of the most geographically dispersed people -- Telstra's CEO Sol Trujillo is talking up the Internet as one way to tackle upcoming health issues.

Speaking yesterday at the MedInfo conference in Brisbane, Trujillo said that as broadband and mobile network speeds increase, medical staff will better be able to share information.

"Patient records, medication management, professional development and health fund transactions all depend on information that is stored and transmitted via telecommunication networks. Next-generation communications services will deliver quantum improvements in productivity by changing the ultimate paradigm -- which is simply, time," he said.

Trujillo believes that in the future, GPS will be used to help ambulances track down the exact location of accident victims, with video information on patients' conditions transmitted back to hospitals over mobile networks.

The Telstra CEO added that in "tomorrow's world" even chronically ill patients, including Alzheimer's sufferers, could be networked for remote monitoring.

"Using body area networks, patients can have their vital signs checked 24/7 with interactive biometric monitoring. Using networked mobile phones, TVs and PCs, patients can get reminders to take their medication and alerts can be generated if they don't. Non-intrusive mechanisms can monitor elderly parents remotely, capturing information such as whether the toilet was flushed or the doors were opened. An acute event can trigger a remediation process that protects the privacy of the patient and the care team," he added.

As well as making doctors' lives easier, Trujillo predicted that patients will also be turning to telecoms to alleviate their own concerns through social networking -- by contacting others with the same health problem online -- or getting "virtual visits" from friends while in hospital.

For the moment, health professionals are tapping up broadband networks to help patients. The government has already made a series of grants under its AU$113 million Clever Networks program, among them AU$2 million broadband network for chronic disease management and a AU$4 million grant for a remote diagnosis system.

The CSIRO e-Health Research Centre also announced a funding boost this week with a AU$221,145 grant from The Department of Education, Science and Training. The resources will be used for a project working on developing better technologies to support productive interaction in groups working in clinical settings.