New mobile clinic puts the health of Indigenous children in the front seat

Brisbane 07 December 2008Brisbane medical specialists will use patient images and information captured by a new $1,5 million mobile health screening service to diagnose and treat Indigenous children living hundreds of kilometres away. Medical experts believe the new mobile service, part of a University of Queensland research project, unveiled in Brisbane, could shape future health care for Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It is expected to slash the incidence of preventable conditions such as glue ear and perforations.


The mobile e-health van - funded through the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation - will provide better access to health screening and specialist services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Cherbourg region. The rural Aboriginal community, located 300 km north-west of Brisbane, is the first in Australia to trial the Health-e-Screen 4 Kids telemedicine programme.

Health-e-Screen 4 Kids is an initiative of the University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health (COH), in close collaboration with the Cherbourg Community Health Service and the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane. It will provide a health screening service, combined with telemedicine links to specialist doctors in Brisbane. Telemedicine will enable specialists to assess children who normally would have limited access to this level of care due to their remote location.

COH Senior Research Fellow Dr. Anthony Smith said the aim of the research was to investigate the feasibility and benefits of a mobile health screening service which will be routinely operated by local Indigenous health workers with the support of telemedicine. "The three-year project will initially focus on detecting health conditions which impact on children's hearing and vision, as well as monitoring general health and well-being", Dr. Smith stated. "However, there is potential to expand the screening service to include other specialties such as dentistry and dermatology", he stated.

A custom-designed vehicle, which has been emblazoned with the artwork of a local Cherbourg artist, has been converted into a mobile clinic with the facilities required for the on-board assessment of children in the region. Health screening information collected by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers will be stored in a secure on-line database. This database will be accessed via a secure website by selected specialists at the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane who will be able to review cases, diagnose, and recommend treatment plans if required.

"By introducing a routine mobile clinic for the Cherbourg region, we hope to screen more than 90 percent of children aged 3-15 - up to 1000 children - annually and contribute to improved health outcomes in the community", Dr. Smith stated. "The project is important because it could help ensure the early detection and monitoring of children at higher risk of developing a chronic disease. It may also help the co-ordination of specialist tertiary services - ensuring that treatment and follow-up services are delivered in the most efficient manner."

Cherbourg Community Health Service Advanced Health Worker Cecil Brown, who will operate the daily screening service, said the project had the potential to also benefit other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. "The project will not only benefit this community, but could also be expanded to other rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Queensland and throughout Australia", Mr. Brown stated.

The Royal Children's Hospital Foundation has raised more than $700.000 towards the project garnering support from some of Australia's corporate heavyweights, including Virgin Blue, as well as charitable foundations such as the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund, the Telstra Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation, Grosvenor Foundation, Perpetual Trustees and the Australian Children's Trust.

Royal Children's Hospital Foundation CEO Karenlee Spillane said her organisation was proud to back the project and excited to witness the revolution of health care for children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. "We thank the community of Cherbourg for their collaboration. We hope this project will show that mobile health screening combined with telemedicine is a valuable model for the future delivery of primary health care in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia."

The new mobile screening service will begin operating throughout the Cherbourg region from January 2009 at the start of the school year. The launch of the Health-e-Screen 4 Kids project will coincide with the first surgical outreach programme at the Cherbourg Hospital, conducted by Queensland Health's statewide Deadly Ears programme.

Source: University of Queensland

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