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Qld launches 'Tiny Tom' telepaediatric healthcare

The University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health (COH) and Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane have launched a joint paediatric service for remote communities using telepresence called 'Tiny Tom'.
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Written by Alex Serpo on

The University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health (COH) and Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane have launched a joint paediatric service for remote communities using an in-house developed videoconferencing system called "Tiny Tom".

COH deputy director, Dr Anthony Smith said the new service linked clinicians at Mackay Base Hospital by video with the neonatal intensive care unit at The Townsville Hospital.

"What this service essentially does is act as a bridge — it connects the babies and the parents ... but it also connects the Mackay clinicians with the specialists in Townsville, improving collaboration and communication in the care of babies," he told ZDNet.com.au.

Excellent close-up video images of baby "Rihanna" are shared real-time via video-conference.

COH researcher Nigel Armfield said the system was constructed from various components including a Sony video-conferencing unit, a battery, UPS and some remote management equipment.

"In hardware terms it's not rocket science, it's off-the-shelf things that have been put together to make a useful product," Armfield said. Tiny Tom includes remote control systems for diagnostics and testing, along with switching the system on and off.

Dr Smith said that together with the additional access to specialists, Tiny Tom also provides economic benefits. "In two of our sites we were able to demonstrate savings of about AU$600,000", he said.

Mining giant Xstrata has provided AU$335,000 over the past three years to the COH via the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation for the project.

The funding has allowed the COH to extend its "telepaediatric" service into a number of regional areas, including Townsville and Mackay for neonatal care; Gympie and Nambour Hospital for general paediatric support; and Mount Isa and Emerald Hospitals for specialist paediatric support.

Along with the expansion of the service, Dr Smith predicted telemedicine would become increasingly commonplace.

"I think our aim here is to do this type of work in a systematic way. Our focus is on developing these models which we suspect will not only be used for other paediatric centres, but also for other areas [including] geriatrics," he said.

Launch of the "Tiny Tom" mobile telepaediatric system in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Townsville Hospital (27 June, 2008).

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