Medical practice using telehealth cart as part of research project

LONDON: Cutting-edge medical technology has come to a GP clinic in a small town in a rural area, and it could change how regional settlements approach medicine.

Anne-Marie Donovan’s patients at the Clifton Medical Practice can now be treated in full by a doctor more than 150km away.

It’s thanks to a pioneering piece of technology that she says won’t just solve the clinic’s GP recruitment woes but also revolutionise healthcare in regional Australia.

Clifton is the only town in Queensland with a state-of-the-art $15,000 Visionflex medical cart, as part of an extensive research project by the University of Queensland and Mater Research.

Ms Donovan, who works as the primary health and wellness manager at Clifton, said the robot devise allowed a doctor to check a huge number of a patient’s vital signs and inspect their exteriors with multiple high-definition cameras.

“It comes with digital diagnostic equipment like an electrocardiogram, blood pressure monitor, pulsimeter and high-definition camera that can measure wounds,” she said.

“The camera has the measurements, and we can also attach a tongue depressor onto the camera so the doctor can look in throats.

“They’ll log into our medical records, but we’ll be able to make digital recordings and import it into the patient’s file — it’s quite remarkable.”

Brisbane doctor Fang-Wei Chen will start with patients at the centre from Friday, meaning Clifton will be serviced for doctors every day of the working week.

Ms Donovan said the collaboration began after speaking with the Darling Downs and West Moreton Primary Health Network about its ongoing troubles with recruiting doctors.

“UQ reached out to our PHN and three others about this project, and with the funding they were given, they funded the purchase of the telehealth cart,” she said.

“Coincidentally, we were contacting the PHN about our GP crisis while they were taking on this funding.

“The funding through the UQ project was $20,000 for each clinic — the cart is $15,000 and then there’s the software and support.”

Ms Donovan said the cart came at a crucial time for Clifton, which had struggled to find long-term GPs.

“One of the issues is the doctors want a work-life balance, and they don’t want to necessarily move to areas like Clifton,” she said.

“It was a very big problem, it had been going on for 12 months, and we have exhausted every avenue.

“I was asked how much time was spent on GP recruitment, and I could say 15 per cent of my day is spent on that.

“The feedback is they’re so disengaged with the restrictions and changes put on by state and federal governments.

“We also know there was a big report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners that just 14 per cent of new medical graduates are going to become GPs.”

But Ms Donovan said the technology, assuming it was rolled out en masse, could allow elderly patients to connect with specialists across Australia and even on the other side of the world.

“Telehealth has been around a long time, but since Covid it’s ramped up a lot and the main way is phone health,” she said.

“But with this video-health cart, they still see the nurse and admin team at the clinic, and that’s a really important part of their social wellbeing.

“They still go into the consult room, the nurse can be involved, and the patient still gets assessed by the nurse and they still talk to the doctor.

“This could allow our patients to see a specialist or allied health professional anywhere in the world — there are opportunities to replicate this around Australia.”