Telemedicine robots help improve health

University of Queensland telemedicine researchers are using a robot named Eliza to conquer the tyranny of distance and improve delivery of specialist medical care to the bush.

Eliza, who began work at Mt Isa Hospital this week, is a creation of the University's Centre for Online Health – a world leader in telemedicine research.

The wireless robots can be wheeled to the bedside of sick children for video-link consultations with Brisbane specialists, greatly reducing the need for families to travel to the city for specialist care.

Local doctors take the robot to the bedside and thanks to a video-link, established via the Centre for Online Health, the sick child can see their Brisbane specialist on the robot's television–like screen. A built-in camera and microphone enables the specialist to see and speak with the child.

Eliza is one of four robots that will be commissioned over the next three years, thanks to a $335,000 grant provided by mining company Xstrata (Community Partnership Program), through the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation.

The robot project is an extension of the telepaediatric research led by the Centre for Online Health, in collaboration with the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

An earlier model robot, known as Roy, is already a successful addition to the children's ward at the Gladstone District Hospital, in Central Queensland.

The Xstrata funding will support the development of four new robots which will be deployed in selected central and north Queensland hospitals, as well as employment of a Senior Research Officer to manage the project at the Centre for Online Health.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Anthony Smith said the new robots would enable the Centre to build on the successful trial conducted in Gladstone.

"This funding gives our research team the opportunity to investigate how this ground-breaking service can be expanded to other regional hospitals throughout Queensland and to evaluate its capacity to deliver high quality clinical care to patients, as well as professional support and educational opportunities to health staff in regional areas, such as Mt Isa," Dr Smith said.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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