New telemedicine service to help in the care of sick babies

Townsville 27 June 2008"Tiny Tom", an innovative new telemedicine service which will help with the care of sick babies in North Queensland was launched in Townsville on June 27, 2008. Tiny Tom is the latest development of the telepaediatric service, a major research project run by the University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health (COH), a research centre based in the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

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COH Deputy Director, Dr. Anthony Smith said the new service linked clinicians at Mackay Base Hospital, by video, with the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Townsville Hospital. "Tiny Tom is a mobile and wireless telemedicine system that facilitates weekly virtual ward rounds between Townsville and Mackay hospitals", Dr. Smith stated.

"During the ward rounds at the NICU, Tiny Tom is wheeled up to an infant's beside to enable a direct video-conference consultation between the specialists in Townsville and the care team in Mackay so that they can discuss the progress of the patient. Tiny Tom also enables parents and family members, who are unable to travel to Townsville, to see their baby and talk to NICU specialists and nursing staff", Dr. Smith stated.

The Executive Dean of University of Queensland's Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Peter Brooks, said that the Centre for Online Health was doing valuable work. "The Centre provides paediatric consultations at a distance which has really demonstrated how these new technologies can link patients in rural and remote areas to specialists and other tertiary services that would, by their very nature, only exist in major centres."

Director of Paediatics at Mackay Base Hospital, Dr. Michael Williams praised the new service: "This service has given us the opportunity for ongoing involvement with our babies at the Townsville Hospital thus allowing us to build up a greater awareness and understanding of the clinical issues that our babies have been experiencing and hence we have a much greater clinical understanding when they return", he stated.

The research will investigate the potential economic and clinical benefits of using telemedicine in neonatal intensive care. University of Queensland Centre for Online Health researcher, Mr. Nigel Armfield said that in addition to the potential benefits of improved continuity of care, it was hoped that Tiny Tom was a way of involving family members more fully in the ongoing care of their baby and the subsequent planning for the return home.

Tiny Tom is the fourth telemedicine system funded through the Xstrata Community Partnership Programme Queensland. Xstrata has provided $335.000 over the past three years to the University of Queensland Centre for Online Health via the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation for the project.

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


Leslie Versweyveld

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