Queensland lecturer invents system to treat patients over the Internet via Web cam

Brisbane 24 June 2004Dr. Trevor Russell, a software creator and University of Queensland physiotherapy lecturer, has invented a system to treat patients over the Internet via Web cam. His telemedicine rehabilitation package is for people in country towns or isolated areas who would normally be without physiotherapy. Patients and physiotherapists can see and hear each other in real-time using a camera and standard dial-up Internet connection. The software allows physiotherapists to guide their patients to administer their own physical assessments and treatment.

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"All the patients need is a little Web camera, which costs about $100 to add to their system then they can access the service", Dr. Russell stated. The system was tested on 65 knee replacement patients at the QEII Hospital with half of the group treated in person, and the other half via the computer.

Their knees were measured for strength, size and flexibility and then monitored during six weeks of physiotherapy. The results showed the telemedicine patients had less pain and more mobility particularly in everyday movements such as climbing stairs. "They reported feeling more in control of their rehabilitation and had higher compliance with a home exercise programme", according to Dr. Russell.

He believes his telemedicine system is the first of its kind in physiotherapy. And the same technology could be applied to speech pathology, oncology, back-to-work therapy, diabetics and stroke, cancer and eye patients. "Eventually patients who generally now spend a long time in extended care facilities, can go home earlier so it costs the government less to house them in hospitals", Dr. Russell added.

The telemedicine system will be tested on stroke and brain disorder patients before it is pitched to Queensland Health. Asked if the system could be as good as in-person care, Dr. Russell said the physiotherapist was still in visual and audio contact but it was via the computer rather than face-to-face. "At the end of the day, it is allowing us to treat people who otherwise would have no assistance with rehabilitation. So it is that something rather than nothing scenario."


Leslie Versweyveld

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