Patient on hospital surrounded by health professionals with VICCU™ in foreground.

ViCCU™ in use at Katoomba Hospital

Award-winning healthcare technology overcomes the tyranny of distance

CSIRO developed a real-time telepresence link enabling specialists to treat critically ill patients at remote locations.

  • 4 August 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011

CSIRO combined research into networking technology and how humans interact with technology to develop the award-winning Virtual Critical Care Unit (ViCCU®).

ViCCU® allows a specialist in, for example, emergency medicine or obstetrics, at one hospital to supervise a team at a remote hospital in real-time.

The system currently links three hospitals in New South Wales and the underlying technology is being deployed by our commercial partners in this and other states of Australia.

The problem

Hospitals in rural and regional parts of Australia have difficulty providing the round-the-clock specialist expertise typically available in major centres.

The standard way patients access this expertise is by going to it. As this usually means travelling a long distance – often by ambulance − the situation is far from ideal.

CSIRO solution

ViCCU® uses high bandwidth advanced networking technology to make information available in real time so a specialist can decide on patient treatment as if they were in the same room.

ViCCU® allows a specialist in, for example, emergency medicine or obstetrics, at one hospital to supervise a team at a remote hospital in real-time.

CSIRO developed ViCCU® in close collaboration with:

  • Sydney West Area Health Service
  • NSW Health
  • staff at the hospitals where the system was first installed.

The information ViCCU® sends includes:

  • multiple high quality digital video channels
  • high quality audio
  • vital signs data
  • written notes
  • medical images.

ViCCU® was specially designed to be:

  • always on − in an emergency there is no time to wait for a system to start up
  • plug-and-play − so medical staff can use the system with very little training
  • robust − it does not require on-site technical support to initiate sessions
  • integrated into standard clinical procedure − work practices remain unchanged
  • patient-centric – attention is focused is on patient, not the technology.

ViCCU® uses high bandwidth advanced networking technology developed by the CSIRO-lead Centre for Networking Technologies for the Information Economy (CeNTIE).

Installed in the real world

The first installation of ViCCU® was between Nepean Hospital, on the western outskirts of Sydney, and the Blue Mountains District ANZAC Memorial Hospital, 80 kilometres away in Katoomba.

A clinical trial of the system ran for 18 months during which there were 443 documented ‘activations’. This trial was independently evaluated by the Centre for Health Informatics at the University of NSW.

The system remains in use and has been extended to a third hospital at Lithgow, on the far side of the Blue Mountains from Katoomba.

Outcomes

ViCCU® and its underlying networking technology enables new critical care telehealth applications not achievable through current ISDN connections.

ViCCU® also resulted in:

  • more appropriate treatment for patients
  • better use of stretched medical resources
  • the development of ECHONET − EchoCardiographic Healthcare Online Networking Expertise in Tasmania.

The system was commercialised by Telstra, and ViCCU®’s design philosophy is being applied to new critical care telemedicine systems being deployed in New South Wales and Victoria.

Awards

ViCCU® won the following awards:

  • 2004 Australian Information Industry Award for Telecommunications Implementation
  • 2007 Don Walker Award for Improving Access to Healthcare in Rural and Remote Communities
  • 2007 CSIRO Service from Science Award.

ViCCU® was a finalist for several others including the 2004 Eureka Science Prize for ICT Innovation.

Read more about Delivering specialist healthcare to the patient’s bedside

  • ViCCU® is a registered trademark of CSIRO Australia.