Using satellite broadband technology, CSIRO scientists have connected metropolitan-based eye specialists to patients in remote areas of Australia to help prevent blindness.

[Music plays and text appears on screen: Sight Saving Science for Western Australia]

[Image changes to show a picture of an eye]

[Image changes to show Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam, Research Director, Australian e-Health Research Centre]

Prof Yogesan: My focus is to prevent needless blindness in rural communities, especially in the indigenous population living in rural Western Australia and also in Torres Strait Islands.

[Image changes to show A/Prof Mei-Ling Tay-Kearney, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Royal Perth Hospital]

A/Prof Mei Ling: The prevalence of diabetes in these populations are much, much higher than in the non-indigenous Australians.

[Image changes back to Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam]

Prof Yogesan: It’s about 40 per cent of the aboriginal population have diabetes, and one third of them will develop some sort of eye problem and if they don’t manage very well they can become blind.

[Image changes back to A/Prof Mei-Ling Tay-Kearney]

A/Prof Mei Ling: If one can actually pick up early changes and provide the appropriate intervention, one can actually prevent blindness.

[Image changes back to Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam]

Prof Yogesan: So that’s why we managed to develop this technology and business model where you can actually provide the service directly to the doorstep of people living in rural and very remote areas.

[Image changes to show Jenny having her eyes scanned]

Jenny Day: My name is Jenny Day, my mother was born at Wongawol Station and she’d be known as a Yamaji and I’m a Yamaji woman.

I see retinal diabetes as a disease that the community needs to know a lot more about.

[Image changes to show Jenny Day, Founding Director, Community Development Foundation, addressing the camera]

It’s prevalence is increasing rapidly and we need to get more community involved into what it is and how we can prevent it.

[Image changes to show a silver car driving along a road]

A/Prof Mei Ling: The health worker goes out to the community; clients come in to an office.

[Image changes back to show the health worker scanning Jenny’s eyes]

The health worker then tests their vision and takes pictures of the back of the eye.

[Image changes back to A/Prof Mei-Ling Tay-Kearney at her desk working on a computer]

This health worker then uploads the image onto a computer and from there it’s transmitted across to a website and I, myself, can then access this website from anywhere and anytime. It takes me about five minutes to read the images, create the report and then send it back to the health worker.

[Image changes back to Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam]

Prof Yogesan: This entire program can actually save a lot of money for the health system.

[Image changes back to Jenny Day]

Jenny Day: It means that they’re not uprooted, they don’t need to get themselves organise to come to Perth.

[Image changes back to Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam]

Prof Yogesan: It empowers the local health care workers, screeners and nurses, and also doctors who are practicing in rural areas to make decisions, whether the patient has to be referred or not.

[Image changes back to Jenny Day]

Jenny Day: It can be done in Kalgoorlie, can be done in Leonora, it can be done anywhere.

[Image changes back to Prof Yogesan Kanagasingam]

[Image changes back to show Jenny having her eyes scanned]

Prof Yogesan: We have very successfully implemented this system in China, in Guangdong Province, so if we can implement in China, so why can we not implement in Australia? - it’s only 20-million people.

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Sight Saving Science for Western Australia

Additional Resources

The technology combines CSIRO's Remote-I platform with satellite broadband and has been used with over 1000 patients from the Torres Strait Islands and southern Western Australia who received a free eye screening appointment at a local community health centre.

The screening program identified 68 patients who were at high risk of going blind, including those with macula odema.

"Diabetic retinopathy often causes irreversible blindness, and it affects the Indigenous population at nearly four times the rate of the non-Indigenous population," trial leader Professor Yogi Kanagasingam from the CSIRO said.

"In almost all cases this can be avoided by having regular eye checks, however those in remote communities simply don’t have access to these services.  

"If we can pick up early changes and provide the appropriate intervention, we can actually prevent blindness."

The Remote-I platform works by capturing high-resolution images of a patient's retina with a low-cost retinal camera, which are then uploaded over satellite broadband by a local health worker.

Metropolitan-based specialists are then able to access the cloud-based system from a tablet or a desktop computer.

"Once the health worker uploads the patient’s image, I can access it anywhere at any time. It takes me about five minutes to read the images, create the report, and then send it back to the health worker," consultant ophthalmologist for the project Dr Mei-Ling Tay-Kearney said.

According to Professor Kanagasingam, technologies like Remote-I can help close the gap in access to healthcare in remote and regional Australia.

"After successful trials in Queensland and Western Australia, we're really looking to see how we can work with governments and health care providers to continue the rollout of this technology across other states and territories," he said.

Professor Kanagasingam and his team have also been successful in obtaining a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) development grant to create an algorithm that can automatically identify all the pathologies related to diabetic retinopathy. Trials of this technology will be undertaken to see how it supports current and new referral pathways for patients.

"We are also working with the Western Australia Department of Health to identify other applications of tele-medicine,"  Professor Kanagasingam said.

After achieving such successful results in Australia, CSIRO has licensed Remote-I to a Silicon Valley spin-off TeleMedC, which plan to take the technology to the US and world market as part of its 'EyeScan' diagnostic solution.

The founder and CEO of TeleMedC, Para Segaram, said that Remote-I is opening up new market opportunities for the company.

"We've had a great experience working with the team at CSIRO, and licensing Remote-I has helped us make basic eye screening more efficient and affordable so we can reach as many people as possible," Mr Segaram said.

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Images

  • We trialled Remote-I in rural areas in Western Australia and Torres Strait.

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  • The Remote-I platform captures high-resolution images of a patient’s retina.

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  • Ghislaine Wharton and David Hansen trial Remote-I in the Torres Straight.

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  • Paul Christian taking part in the Remote-I trial.

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Additional information

About the project

The project received funding from the Broadband-enabled Telehealth Pilots Program administered by the Federal Department of Health, and was delivered via new partnerships between researchers from CSIRO, Western Australia Country Health Service (WACHS), The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists through its Indigenous Remote Eye Service (IRIS) and Queensland Health.

nbn, the company building the national broadband network, will launch the first of its long term satellites later this year. The satellite service will provide fast broadband to over 200,000 homes and businesses in remote Australia in 2016.

About TeleMedC

TeleMedC is a Tagus Ventures’ spin-off company that focuses on ophthalmic medical imaging devices and smart diagnostic software for screening and management of chronic diseases and eye conditions. Its product, EyeScan, is currently being used by NASA at the International Space Station for the assessment of intracranial pressure in astronauts.

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