ECHONET is a broadband telemedicine system.
Delivering specialist healthcare to the patient’s bedside
CSIRO’s expertise in broadband network technologies is allowing patients in regional areas of Tasmania access to specialist cardiac health services.
10 July 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011
CSIRO's experts in information and communications technology developed a broadband telemedicine system to support medical teams attending to patients in the intensive care units of rural hospitals in the Australian state of Tasmania.
Known as ECHONET (EchoCardiographic Healthcare Online Networking Expertise in Tasmania) it is still in use today.
Servicing a need
The provision of health services, particularly specialist care, is a critical issue for regional communities around Australia.
In caring for patients in intensive care units (ICUs), staff frequently have to involve a number of medical specialities, including echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart).
In Tasmania, where ECHONET was developed, ICU patients at Northwest Regional Hospital (NWRH) who required this specialist service were frequently transferred to larger centres, or even interstate – a risky and expensive process for people who are critically ill.
Medical professionals, and patients, were keen to have a system that would bring specialist care to the patient’s bedside and CSIRO’s research, including considerable consultation with end users, showed conventional telemedicine systems would be unlikely to do the job effectively.
What ECHONET does
ECHONET employs several channels of high quality video and an advanced user interface to permit a specialist in one hospital to interact with the ICU team at another hospital as naturally as if they too were in the room with the patient.
CSIRO scientists, working closely with medical professionals, developed ECHONET to be easy to use so medical staff could stay focussed on the patient and work independent of technical support.
ECHONET also includes:
advanced computer network technology to supply the high bandwidth required in order to visualise rapidly moving heart structures
a simultaneous camera view of the patient so the remote specialist can guide the procedure
near broadcast quality video to create a sense of being there (telepresence) which enhances interaction between the two sites.
All units are identical and can be used as transmitting or receiving stations, allowing specialist and hardware resources to be shared among a number of centres.
ECHONET underwent a formal clinical trial between August 2007 and May 2008.
This trial formed the basis of a comprehensive evaluation conducted by CSIRO and the Rural Clinical School of the University of Tasmania.
Since completion of the formal trial, the system remains in use in a longer term trial as part of the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services’ telehealth network.
Direct benefits of ECHONET are:
improved decision-making for patients in regional centres due to access to a wider range of specialists
reduced medical costs as patients are less likely to be transferred
better leveraging of the expertise available in the stretched health system
less disruption for patients’ families
reduction in time wasted and expensive travel (for doctors, educators, patients and their families)
improved working relationships among clinicians at the two hospitals
enhanced status of training positions at regional centres since trainees can be exposed to the wider range of specialities available in a major city hospital.
ECHONET received a special mention as part of the Australian Telecommunications Users Group National Broadband Awards in health for enabling NWRH intensive care unit to support virtual specialist medical diagnosis and care.
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