Robotic telepresence training tool takes up tenure in Hobart hospital

Staff and patients at the Royal Hobart Hospital have received a remotely-controlled robotic training tool as part of GE Healthcare's billion-dollar global medical training technology investment.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

A remotely-controlled robotic telepresence training tool is the latest addition to the roster at Tasmania's Royal Hobart Hospital, a large tertiary referral centre and a training hospital that is geographically disadvantaged.

Dr Savas Totonidis, a staff specialist anaesthetist at the Royal Hobart Hospital said aside from making his and his staff's jobs easier, the equipment will benefit patients tenfold.

"As a teaching hospital we receive rotation of anaesthetic trainees every year who may be unfamiliar with the equipment that we use here and it's imperative that we safely train them on the equipment before it's actually used on patients," Totonidis said.

"The existing staff that are here and have been here for a long time can receive refresher lectures and education on equipment that they use on a daily basis to stay current and up to date; and also, with our biomedical staff who service and maintain our machines, it's a good opportunity for them to be able to access expert company advice when no local support is possible."

Totonidis said that such scenarios in a major teaching hospital, in a major city would be available to the clinicians, support staff, and the nurses by way of trainers physically being able to go out to site to train.

"However, we're geographically very isolated," he said. "We're on the small island, at the bottom of the large island continent, and we don't have access to these sorts of resources; however, we are still the tertiary referral centre for the state, and we're still expected to have the equipment to the standard that other major teaching hospitals would have, and also expected to take care of patients that are equally as complex."

As a result, Totonidis said it is a priceless resource for his hospital to have.

The technology comes courtesy of GE Healthcare, as part of its five-year, $1 billion plan which would see the adoption of such training equipment in hospitals and clinics worldwide, with the goal of training over 2 million healthcare professionals by 2020.

The remotely-controlled robotic tool enables any GE expert or clinical partner to deliver interactive, hands-on training sessions to the Royal Hobart Hospital, working similarly to a conference call.

"[This technology] is a combination of a few technologies; it's a video teleconferencing technology, so we can have two-way vision between the expert and ourselves; it lives on a pedestal and has an arm in which the expert on the other end of the line can swivel and turn around; and also, it has a camera on it that can zoom in to very high magnifications on little parts of machines or equipment," Totonidis said.

"It can be utilised to essentially take the place of a person that would be here doing the training.

"Obviously the best case would be to have a physical person here, but when it's not possible, this is a suitable alternative and will actually contribute to the greater good, because it will be accessible to more people and more locations than we currently have."

Totonidis said the Royal Hobart Hospital currently plays a large role in training the doctors and support staff of the Australian Antarctic division.

"We've recently had some interest from them with regards to certain technology once they saw it in here, because down there in Antarctica, they're extremely isolated and often have to perform procedures, and previously they might have taken advice over the phone, but now, if they can implement technology such as this, they would actually be able to have real time, guided expertise, by known experts in whatever procedure they're wanting to perform, which would then lead to a safer outcome for anybody that needs medical care in a remote location," he said.

"I don't think you can get more remote than Antarctica."

Michael Ackland, President and CEO of GE Healthcare ANZ and PNG said that challenges around localised capacity building, training, and innovation are consistent themes for many healthcare systems and governments around the world.

"Healthcare providers continue to experience increased patient volumes and decreased time for training, and it's clear to us that the skills of healthcare professionals using medical equipment are at least as impactful on the resulting outcomes as the quality of the product itself." Ackland said.

"We will continue to work closely with local governments, institutions, and customers to address some of their most important concerns. In some countries, this will mean training midwives to use new ultrasound or portable diagnostic equipment; in others, it will include supporting multi-hospital networks to enhance their clinical and operational outcomes."

Totonidis said this kind of technology is the next revolution in hospital healthcare.

"We need to promote and look for innovative ideas that integrate all of our existing equipment, staff, and resources, so that they all talk to each other and information that is patient-centric can actually flow to all of the people that are involved in their care, even though they physically may not be able to be present," he said.

"At the moment we have a lot of information that is gathered about patients that essentially lives in isolation in that one computer software system, and it is very difficult at the moment for all of that to be easily accessible through one portal. Once we go towards that area, where everything in the hospital is connected and integrated not just here, but around the world, it will lead to better patient outcomes, and that's ultimately where I see this technology really helping."

In 2013, GE announced a five-year, $2 billion investment to build software aimed at harnessing the growing influx of digital data in order to improve efficiency and clinical processes in the health care industry.

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