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.
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.
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.